20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that grave concern is being expressed by many farmers on the Tumut and Mumimbidgee River flats at the delay in the construction of the Blowering Dam, because of the possibility that the main Snowy River waters will ‘be turned into the Tumut River before the Blowering Dam has been completed, causing the continuous flooding and destruction of some of ‘ the most fertile river flats in New South Wales? Will the right honorable gentleman examine this project from a national stand-point with a view to making . available to New South Wales the .finance necessary to enable the Blowering Dam to be completed at a time coinciding . with the turning of the Snowy River waters into the Tumut River for irrigation purposes, or does the right honorable gentleman intend that there shall be a Bob Dyer “ Cop the lot” show for the. farmers along the Tumut River and the Mumimbidgee River!
– The honorable member will be delighted to’ know that this Government has made many millions of pounds available to the New South Wales Government, which has the responsibility for constructing the Blowering Dam. He is quite right when he says there is dissatisfaction among farmers because of delay in the construction of the dam. I have heard it credibly reported that many farmers have become almost intolerably hostile to the New South Wales Government as a result of its neglect of the project.
– Will the Minister for Immigration inform the House, first, of the circumstances surrounding the proposed closure of the immigrant holding centre at Enoggera, in Brisbane, and secondly, whether the interests of memmembers of the staff of the centre who are ex-servicemen will be fully protected ?
– The decision to close the Enoggera immigrant centre was made in the interests of efficiency and economy. With the exception of a small caretaking staff, the people’ now in occupation of the Enoggera centre will be transferred to the Wacol centre at the end of this month. The Wacol centre is more economical to operate, and portions of it can be readily opened or closed, according to the level of immigrant occupancy from time to time. There should be adequate accommodation there to cope with our needs. .Honorable members will realize that a reduction of the number of immigrant establishments in Queensland and other States cannot result in other than a cutting down of staffs, but as retrenchments become necessary, they will be effected in accordance with the general policy laid down for the discharge of temporary employees. In the order of discharge, special provision is made for consideration to be given to the claims of ex-members of the forces who, other things being equal, will be the last to be retrenched.
– Can the Minister for Health say why, under- the arrangement with friendly societies for the payment on behalf of the Commonwealth of an extra hospital benefit of 4s. a day, no provision has been made for the payment of that- benefit to juvenile lodge members, notwithstanding that some of them have been contributing to the hospital benefits scheme since its inception? Is it intended that they should join another hospital benefit organization in order to receive the benefit that is paid by the Commonwealth ?
– The honorable member should direct his question to the friendly societies so that they can- inform him of their rules. All dependants of married, people are usually covered by the one premium.
– I direct to the Minister for Health a question regarding the medical benefits scheme. As there may be. occasions on which it is difficult or . embarrassing for a patient who is insured with a recognized medical benefits organization to meet the full payment for medical treatment and then have to wait for the appropriate refund from the scheme, could the Minister explain how a patient may take advantage of the scheme without first’ making settlement in full to the doctor?
– regulations regarding the medical benefits scheme which have been published set out definitely two different ways ir- which the medical practitioner may be paid. The first is that the patient himself pays the fee and recovers both the Commonwealth contribution and the insurance benefit from th.e organization with which he is insured. That is the more common method. I was informed during a conversation that I had on Monday with the representatives of two major medical benefits organizations that in only one in a thousand cases was the other method adopted. The second method available to the patient is that he may ask the organization to pay the doctor, and then he will recoup the organization for ‘such part of the doctor’s fee as is not covered by his insurance and the Commonwealth contribution.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Health with the statement that I have here . an account submitted by a Grafton medico to a patient receiving treatment in the public ward of -the Grafton Base Hospital. In view of this fact, does the Minister still . adhere to his statement that members of the medical profession are not making i charges for the treatment of patients in the public wards of hospitals?
– Whether or not. charges shall be made for treatment in the public wards of hospitals is entirely a matter of policy for each State government.
– Will the Minister for Health say whether it is a fact that, at his direction, members of the medical profession have been given an unrestricted right to make any charges they feel disposed to make for the treatment of patients in public wards of the Canberra Community Hospital?
– That is a deliberate untruth.
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman must withdraw the words “deliberate untruth”.
– I withdraw those words. I say that the question asked by the honorable member is not in accordance with the facts.
– Can the Minister for Health advise the House of the number of health societies that have been refused registration as approved societies ? If he cannot state the exact number of such refusals, will he say whether the refusal in one instance was based upon the unsatisfactory financial history of the applicant company ? Is he aware that that company, the Bankers Health Society, still advertises extensively for custom and bases its appeals on the ground that its benefits are superior to those provided under the Government’s health scheme? As there are strong grounds for believing that the administrative costs of this company are still unduly high, will the Minister say whether he has the power and, if so, whether he will exercise it, to inquire into the affairs of. the company?
– The Health Department has no power to inquire into the affairs of any organization that is not an approved society under the health scheme. It will be remembered . that, about eighteen months ago, the Government introduced a bill under which occur.rences of the kind to which the honorable iri em. bor has referred could have been prevented, but, unfortunately, the members of the Labour party in another place voted for the deferment of the measure :ind it was not carried.
– Has the Treasurer any information about the proposed construction of a new Commonwealth Bank building- in Rockhampton? Are the plans ready for construction to begin? Does the right honorable gentleman know when it is planned to commence construction, and whether the construction will be carried out by day labour or contract?
– The honorable member was good enough to inform me that he intended to raise this matter, and so I have been able to obtain some information for him. The matter relates to the internal administration of the Commonwealth Bank, and, accordingly, is one for decision by the bank rather than by the Government. However, I have ascertained that the bank is planning the construction of a new building at Rockhampton, although tho plans are only in a preliminary stage mid it is not known when construction will commence. It is the usual practice of the Commonwealth Bank to have buildings such as the proposed building erected by contract, and I presume that in due course the bank will, call for tenders on n contract basis.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that in Brisbane recently the Queensland Full Court of Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration declined to terminate the system of quarterly adjustments of the basic wage? Will he examine the details of that decision to ascertain whether the reasons given by the Full Court are correct, that is, that it has knowledge that there has been an upward trend in the C series price index, winch would normally be reflected in the next basic wage adjustment? Has the Minister yet received any information as to when the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration will publish its reasons for cancelling future quarterly adjustments of the basic wage, and when we may expect information from the court in relation to that matter ?
– The decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration did not bind State tribunals, which are free to take such action as seems proper to them. Most honorable members will agree that it is desirable that, as far as practicable, in the interests of industrial peace, there should be a united approach to, and treatment of, the large questions of wages and industrial conditions. Indeed, State legislatures have frequently issued instructions, or directions, to their own industrial tribunals that they should, as far as practicable, follow the decisions of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I did not understand from the announcement of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that it had any view as to whether or not there would be an upward or a downward movement in prices during the months ahead. Our own inquiries suggest that we have reached a situation of price stability, and that any movements, whether upwards or downwards, will be likely to be of a minor nature. I believe that there is a general recognition that this country needs, at the present time and for a considerable time ahead, a state of economic stability so that industry can plan confidently on certain assumptions. I was asked questions about this matter yesterday, and I have sought to ascertain when the reasons for the judgment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court are likely to be published. I have no further information about that matter, but I know that the court proposes to hear, on the 20th October, applications from other parties who desire to have applied to them the order previously made by the court in relation to other bodies.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service arrange to inform the House how many federal awards which provide for quarterly adjustments of the basic wage have been affected by the decision already announced by the Full Court of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration?
How many awards which provide for quarterly adjustments have been left unaffected? What will be the procedure taken in the court in connexion with the ordinary announcements of quarterly adjustments which are acted upon, as the Minister knows,, by some of the State tribunals which adopt the quarterly system of wage adjustment? Only a small number of wards is directly affected by the order which has already been made by the court.
– I understand that a comparatively small number of awards is affected directly by the decision given by the court, but as I have intimated to the honorable member for Blaxland, on the 20th October the court proposes to hear applications in relation to certain awards which will then be before it. As the matter is obviously of great importance and has a very wide effect, I shall ascertain whether I can secure authoritative information on the subject for presentation to the House.
– Will the Minister, in addition to supplying information, about the number of trade unions affected by the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in connexion with automatic increases of the basic wage, and about the number of unions to be listed on the 2 0th October, also supply, for the information of honorable members, a list of the unions whose basic wage assessments are determined, not by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, but by State arbitration courts?
– I shall see to what degree it is practicable to meet the request ot the honorable member.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Navy. When I was in Manus Island and in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea I was asked by members of the forces, both the Navy and the Air Force, who are at present serving in those areas, that no discrimination be made between service personnel and Commonwealth civilian employees in regard to income tax exemptions. As I have not received a reply to representations which I made to the Government on their behalf, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government has made any decision on the matter ?
– Shortly after the honorable member returned from Manus Island, he made representations to the Government that service personnel serving in Manus Island be exempted from the payment of income tax. -The matter was considered by the Government, and a decision was made to exempt Navy and Air Force personnel in the same way as civilian personnel who serve in the area are exempted from the tax. My colleague, the Minister for Territories, announced a few days ago that the exemption would extend to all service personnel serving in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I did not reply to the honorable member’s representations because I hoped that it would be common knowledge that the exemption had been granted.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply been directed to” statements which suggest that the atomic tests are being delayed for political reasons because the Australian people are obsessed by the fear of radio-active clouds ? Are these suggestions true or otherwise?
– The suggestions are grossly, untrue. There are no political reasons connected with the timing of the atomic tests.
– How is the wind blowing at the moment?
– Very much against the Labour party! The atomic tests, which are of the highest order of scientific complexity, are in the hands of scientists of great skill and experience, and the timing is entirely a matter for them and not for anybody else.- I do not believe for one moment that the Australian people are anxious. . The tests are quite safe. If they were not safe they would not be taking place. Furthermore they are part of the defence of the free world, and I believe, as I think every honorable member believes, that all Australians are glad to play their part in such defence.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that he has agreed to meet the Lord Mayor of
Newcastle later this month in relation to the provision of an airport for Newcastle. If so, can he remember refusing, point blank, such a requestfrom me a fortnight ago? In view of that refusal will the right honorable gentleman inform me why he refused to acknowledge the representations that I made, considering that the proposed site for the airport is within my electorate, and has agreed to meet the Lord Mayor as a result of representations made by a member of his party, without informing all other honorable members interested in the project of his intentions? Is this happening merely the result of a mistake, or is it that the Prime Minister is playing the diabolical game of politics to which he once referred ?
– I am sorry that I cannot even answer the question, because I do not know the answer. I know that I shall be visiting some portions of New South Wales, but I am as yet unaware of the details of the arrangements.
– As there is some confusion in the minds of people who are in receipt of a service pension as well as a war pension regarding the proposed increase of pension rates, can the Minister for Social Services inform the House of the increased ceiling rate for such pensioners? If those persons are able to do so, are they permitted to earn sufficient to bring their incomes, plus pension, to £5 10s. in the case of single persons and £11 in the case of married couples?
– The new ceiling rates are £4 17s. 6d. for an unmarried person and £8 17s. 6d. for a married couple both of whom are pensioners. Other income may he earned to bring the total income of the unmarried pensioner to £5 10s. a week and of the married couple to £11 a week.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether, in view of the fact that an estimate of £3.000 prepared by the Department of Works for the removal of sand from the enclosed swimming pool at Jervis Bay has been rejected by the Department of the Interior on the ground of expense, he will undertake that if the citizens of Jervis Bay organize working bees to carry out this project necessary plant will be made available for that purpose by the Department of Works? Will the Minister also seek from the Minister for the Navy and Minister for Air an assurance that the naval officer commanding at Jervis Bay will be authorized to give such help in men and equipment as may be available at Jervis Bay naval station for this worthwhile community effort?
– The Department of the Interior and the Department of Works are always open to reasonable propositions. I do not know the details of this particular proposition, although I have a hazy recollection of dealing with something like it about a fortnight ago. I shall examine the matter, and see what the position is, although I think that the honorable gentleman’s requests are a little out of court.
– I ask the Miinster for the Army whether the Army still owns or has on lease, as quarters for Army personnel, properties formerly used as seaside or country holiday residentials. What were the purposes behind the acquisition of these properties? Have some of them already reverted to civilian use? Can the Minister inform the House whether substantial financial losses were incurred by the Army as a result of the acquisition and subsequent reversion of the properties ? Will he table the departmental files relative to all such properties so that all the costs of acquisition, renovation, reversion and subsequent repairs may be scrutinized ?
– I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s questions if he will indicate to me the properties that he has in mind. milk.
– Recently, in the absence of the Minister for Health,I inquired when the Department of Health was likely to extend the provision of free milk for school children to Redcliffe and other areas within the electorate that I represent. Can the right honorable gentleman now inform the House whether the problem of distribution in those areas relates to a difference of price between -them and Brisbane? If price is not the trouble, why is the scheme not extended immediately so that school children iri those districts shall not be at a disadvantage in relation to children in Brisbane and its suburbs?
– I am not aware of the local conditions in Queensland because the administration of the free milk scheme for school children rests entirely with the State Government, which carries out the work through its Department of Education. There has been some difficulty in Queensland because the State Government has failed to observe the terms of the legislation that provides for the distribution of free milk to school children. The act provides that tenders shall be secured for the supply of milk to schools. The price fixed by the Queensland Prices Commissioner for milk delivered to schools is either above or at the same level as the price charged to the ordinary householder. In every other State, because of the quantities involved, milk for school children is supplied at a price considerably lower than that charged to the individual householder. I intend to go to Queensland at my earliest convenience in order to discuss this matter with representatives of the State Government with the object of straightening out the difficulty and expediting the distribution of free milk.
– Some time ago I made representations to the Treasurer in relation to loan allocations for the Council of the City of Newcastle. The right honorable gentleman informed m.’: in reply that borrowings by semigovernmental bodies were not subject to the financial agreement and that, therefore, the Australian Loan Council had no legal authority in relation to them. Does that mean that the limit imposed upon the borrowings of the City Council of Newcastle for 1953-54 could not be enforced and that the council could borrow more than the specified amount?
– This matter, obviously, concerns the Govern ment of New South Wales. The authority to which the honorable member has referred comes within the scope of what is known as the gentleman’s agreement, which is an arrangement between the various States to allocate certain amounts, within their own semigovernmental loan programmes, to various instrumentalities, including the Newcastle City Council.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. The Lord Mayor of Brisbane recently stated that local government, authorities were seriously disadvantaged in the raising of loan moneys because of the allowance of a rebate for taxation purposes in relation to interest on Commonwealth loans. Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether that is so? What authority determines the rate of interest on Commonwealth loans, and the rates that can be paid by local government authorities when raising loans?
– The terms and conditions relating to the raising of loans are fixed by the Loan Council, and there is no need for me to reiterate the constitution of the Loan Council which affords the States a preponderance of votes. With regard to the statement that local authority borrowing has been prejudiced by the concessional allowance for taxation purposes on interest on Commonwealth loans, let me remind the honorable member that the provision has existed for very many years and that the concession was granted by a decision of the Loan Council.
– I ask the Minister for Supply to explain the composition of the body or group described as the Combined Development Agency, which is said to be handling the sale and distribution of Australia’s uranium. Under what authority has it been established? Is it a governmental body or a nongovernmental body? In the latter event, what is the basis of its remuneration ? Further, is it invested with any special powers independent of, or without the necessity for reference to, the Government in relation to the distribution of uranium, the fixation of prices, or any other relevant matter, and to whom does it report on its activities?
– I cannot answer some of that question off-hand . All I can tell the honorable member is that the Combined Development Agency is an instrumentality representative of the British and American Governments.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Was
Hie Australian Government notified of the British-American decision to evacuate Zone A in Trieste and allow Italian troops to take over there? Is this Government being kept informed of all developments by the United Kingdom and United States Governments? Could or would the Royal Australian Air Force wing stationed at Malta be involved if any serious trouble were to occur in Trieste? .
– We are being kept informed, of these developments. I have no reason to suppose that the Royal Australian Air Force wing referred to could be involved, but I suppose, in strict theory, that depends entirely on the size nf whatever might arise; but there is no mason to suppose that there will be anything of a nature which will involve the use of any of our forces.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the New South Wales Government has recently announced that work is to proceed on the great Keepit Dam project? Does the right honorable gentleman regard this as evidence of the fact that the dispersal of the finance for public works in New South Wales, as in every other State, is decided by the State government concerned? Does he find that this, is difficult to reconcile with the oft-repeated story of inadequate allocations of finance to the States?
– I am sorry, but J nin not aware of those facts. I shall examine the matter, and provide the honorable member with an answer to his question.
– Can the Prime Minister inform me whether Japan has applied to the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee for inclusion as a beneficiary under the plan? If so, has the Government considered the matter, and reached a decision on it?
– All I am aware of is that informal suggestions have been made on that point. Beyond that, I am not in a position to say anything. It is obviously not possible to discuss matters of that kind in this fashion, particularly when they are merely in the stage of probable soundings or tentative inquiries, which do not lend themselves to the making of statements.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is there’ any justification for the rumour that the Government does not intend to proceed with the appointment of an Australian Ambassador to Ireland? If so, is the decision of the Government based on its refusal to accept the wording of the Irish constitution, which describes the title by which the head of the Irish State is to be. addressed ?
– On this matter, I have nothing to add to what has already been said in the House.
– I ask the Prime Minister what progress has been made in regard to the suppression of salacious, pornographic and indecent literature, which is so harmful to the youth of Australia? Quite recently, the right honorable gentleman expressed his interest in this subject and suggested that he would confer with the various States. Has the right honorable gentleman conferred with the various State Premiers ? If not, when does he hope to do so? Furthermore, will he use the facilities of the Department of Trade and Customs a.nrl nf the Postmaster-General’s Department in order to curtail the publication and distribution of such literature?
– This matter was discussed at the last conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Australian Government has jurisdiction over importations under its customs powers. As the honorable member knows, those powers have been exercised from time to time - usually under a blast of criticism, but nevertheless exercised. Literature published and sold in a State comes under the jurisdiction of the State Government, and under State laws prosecutions have been launched in a number of cases. I should be very reluctant to think that the Commonwealth ought to exercise its power over postal matters by opening correspondence or packages in order to ascertain the contents. 1 think that would be a grave invasion of the rights the people expect to have in regard to postal matter. But I have never been able to understand why a State, which has complete authority over these matters within its own boundaries, should have difficulty in dealing with the matter if it thinks fit. Therefore, I strongly suggest to the honorable member that he nudge the ribs of one or two of his State colleagues and ask them to do something about it, because if the. literature is as bad as he says - I would not know, because I never have time to look at it - it is high lime the State Government did something.
– Can the Minister for the Interior say whether it is a fact that over 36,000 ex-servicemen throughout Australia have been declared to be eligible and qualified for land settlement, a.nd have applied for blocks of land, but that loss than 6,000 have been granted farms?
– Consequent upon the best information I have been able to obtain from the States I should say that, as a rough estimate, the problem of soldier settlement has been overcome to the extent of 50 per cent. In other words, there are about as many genuine applicants for allotments as have already been allotted blocks. - Mr. Calwell. - What do you mean by genuine ?
– I mean those who are still eager to go on the land. The number was considerably larger shortly after the war, but information I received from the various State authorities suggests that a large number of those would not go on the land even if they were given an allotment. However, the problem is still grave enough, seeing that seven or eight years have elapsed since the war ended. As I explained recently, we are engaged in finding out what would be involved in, say, a five-year programme. As soon, as we have done so, we shall make plans accordingly, but such a programme would involve a very big effort and I’ should not like to guarantee that we would be able to do all that we wanted to do.
– Will the Minister for the Interior inform the House of the action that the Government is taking to institute an orderly scheme for war service land settlement in the Australian territories, the” development of which is the prerogative of the Commonwealth ? Does the .Government intend to proceed with such a scheme? If not, why not?
– Recently, t had a very pleasant and profitable discussion on war service land settlement with representatives of the returned servicemen’s league from all States in Australia. One of the points raised during that discussion was the point mentioned by the honorable member. I have arranged to confer with representatives of the returned servicemen’s league in the Australian Capital Territory on it. It is not as easy in the Australian Capital Territory as it is elsewhere to find land for soldier settlement. As I have said, that matter will be discussed with representatives of the returned servicemen’s league in the Australian Capital Territory. I cannot give a definite answer to the question at the moment.
– Has the Prime Minister read a pamphlet on television that has been issued to the trade unionists of Australia? It contains the following statement : -
The people of Australia are being denied this important amenity largely because pressure groups, fearing the challenge of this new development, are out to use every sphere of influence to protect their vested interests.
Will the right honorable gentleman inquire into the existence or otherwise of such a pressure group? If it exists, will lie see that its pernicious influence is duly rebutted?
– I have not seen the pamphlet referred to. I am not surprised by the existence of pressure groups. After all, if it were not for their existence, honorable members opposite would not be here.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service say’ when he expects the report of the committee of inquiry on the apprenticeship system to be presented ? The inquiry was inaugurated about three years ago.
– I dealt with this matte, recently, either at question time or in a speech on the Estimates. I pointed out that the committee had completed its report, but, as the committee had been established by both the Commonwealth and the States, it would be necessary for the report to be submitted to the State governments before it could be released to the public. I assured the House that the report would be brought to the notice of honorable members as soon as was practicable.
– I lay on the table the following papers : -
The report deals with applications made by the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania for financial assistance in 1953-54 from the Commonwealth under section 96 of the Constitution. The recommendations contained in the report will be adopted by the Government, and enabling legislation will be introduced at an early date. Copies of the report will be made available to honorable members when the legislation is introduced.
Debate resumed from the 13th October (vide page 1334), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Haylen had moved, by way of amendment -
That all words after .”That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ this House is of the opinion that the moneys should be advanced to the States but the Government should call an immediate conference of the parties to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement (1045) and announce its intention of carrying out the Commonwealth’s financial obligations under the Agreement and endeavour to secure an amendment to the Agreement which will enable tenants to buy their homes on easy terms, and which will secure a substantial reduction of the interest rate.”.
.- Last night, I referred to the fact that, in this year and by this bill, the Government proposes to make a sum of £37,200,000 available to five of the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I pointed out that, if the Government were to carry out the terms of that agreement, it would make available to those States a sum of £50,300,000. Even the sum . of £37,200,000 is not guaranteed by this bill, because, as the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) made clear to the Loan Council, which discussed this matter, if loan subscriptions this year do not amount to £100,000,000, the deficit will be deducted from the States funds for housing and other works. If this Government fails again to fill its loans, it may be that the money made available for housing this year will be less than the restricted sum for which the bill make3 provision.
I foresee that the line of defence adopted by honorable members opposite will be, for those who hold shaky seats, to rise and compare the appropriations for housing made by the Menzies-F’adden Administration and by the Chifley Administration. It must be admitted that under the Chifley Administration the States were given all the money for which they asked under this agreement and were unable to spend sums greater than those that they received. This Government, however, in the last three years will have made available to the States much smaller amounts than they are entitled to under the agreement, and, in’ fact, the States will not have been able to get as much money under the agreement as they can spend. At the end of this financial year the States will have been deprived of about £45,000,000, which they are entitled to under this agreement. That sum would enable about 20,000 houses to be built. If this Government had carried out the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, as it is bound to do by all morals and law, then 20,000 more houses would have been made available for the Australian people. The Chifley Government carried out the agreement and the States were given all the money that they required and all that they could expend. In the last three years, the States have not got more than two-thirds of the money that they could have expended, and which they were entitled to under this agreement. It may be asked what is the source from which I obtained the figures that I have mentioned. I got the figures in the same way as every other private member of this House and every other citizen of this country gets them if he wants them. That is from calculated leaks in newspapers.
The operation of this agreement has been a major source of friction between this Government and the States iri the last three years. One of the faults of their financial relationships is that all negotiations in connexion with them are carried on behind closed doors. That applies to t ttc. Australian Loan Council, which operates under the financial provisions of the Constitution, as well as to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which is a treaty between the sovereign Commonwealth and the six sovereign States. It also applies to some of our other conference’s such as the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers and the Australian Agricultural Council, which do not operate under the Constitution or any treaty, but under a constitutional convention. No minutes are published of any of those meetings, no communique is released and no ministerial statement is presented for discussion in our parliaments. The citizens who are vitally affected by these constitutional and financial matters cannot learn anything about them, and honorable members cannot learn anything about them except from leaks in the newspapers. There is no doubt that there is need for the most skilled diplomacy in the relationship between the
Commonwealth and the States, but there is no need for such secret diplomacy as has occurred in. the last few years. Of course, this secret diplomacy suits the present Government ; the mystery suits its book. It is fully satisfied if its constitutional and treaty obligations are not adequately exposed. We know that buck-passing is endemic in our federal system, and the present Government, by not making a full disclosure of these financial, facts, is avoiding its responsibilities and not allowing the Australian people to see where it has failed.
No one pretends that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is perfect. We admit that a Labour government introduced it in 1945, hut we now realize that it is not perfect. However, if this amendment is carried there will be an opportunity for review before the expiration of the ten-year period foi1 which the agreement will operate. We make no apologies for entering into the agreements. It was the first step that any Australian government had taken to provide houses for the people since 19.1 S, when the war service homes schemes were introduced. It has proved to be the biggest step taken by any government to improve housing in Australia. Housing lags behind all other things in this modern age. The industrial revolution has passed, but it has left housing virtually unchanged. The ratio of material and labour costs in the building of a house is about the same as it was in the time of the Roman Empire. Legislation such as this does cater for the one in five or six families which must rely on rented accommodation being provided for it by others.
The day of the private landlord has gone because the landlord and tenant legislation of the States has come to stay. The Labour party will not remove it, and the Liberal party dare not remove it. Consequently, private persons will not invest money in houses for letting. They may invest in holiday fiats, but holiday flats do nothing to relieve the distress caused by lack of accommodation. We shed no tears over the private landlords, because the sub-standard houses in this country are almost entirely owned by private landlords. They have not been replaced and they are not adequately maintained. Until this agreement came into force there was no systematic endeavour made in this country to replace sub-standard houses and to replace slums. And the creation of slums in this country is a blight on the system of private enterprise. No private factory could long endure if its premises were as antiquated as many of the privately owned tenanted properties in this country.
The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) referred to sub-standard houses in Australia. It is true that State government housing authorities in this country do not provide luxurious accommodation, but the houses that they provide are not sub-standard; all are decent, and provision is made that they shall be made available to tenants at an economic rent. The Labour party has said, and it says again - and next year it will have an opportunity to demonstrate its faith - that the best family unit in this country is that which occupies premises which it is buying and paying for during the earning lives of its members. However, there are certain people in this country who continue to need rented accommodation. Some, through accident or disease, can no longer earn enough to pay for a house, and others are peripatetic people in Commonwealth, State or private employment. The time will come when Commonwealth organizations like the Postal Department and the Department of Trade and Customs will have to provide adequate housing if their .facilities are to be efficiently decentralized. That fact is being realized by all large employers in Australia, whether public or private. This Government had the opportunity to take some action along those lines during its term of office, but it has not taken advantage of that opportunity. There are people such as teachers, policemen and employees of the lands and justice departments Q.f the States, who cannot have a permanent dwelling throughout their earning lives: They need’ accommodation to be provided for them. The private landlord’ will not provide- it, and so public instrumentalities have to do so.
This amendment gives the Government an opportunity to show its good’ faith, and’ to’ have a better agreement made.
The agreement has provided for people who cannot afford to get their own places, and it has provided the best means that this country has ever had of attempting slum clearance. Moreover, it has provided the only means, apart from the War Service Homes Division, by which ex-servicemen could obtain accommodation. This amendment, which I support, and which has been supported by previous Opposition speakers, is a test of the Government’s good faith. If it sincerely wants co-operation and good faith in Commonwealth and State financial relations, it will adopt the amendment. It is up to the Government either to honour tha agreement or to end it. I have shown how the Government has failed to honour the agreement and bow, at any time by giving twelve months’ notice, it could have ended the agreement. The Government refuses to honour its obligations; it refuses to amend the agreement; and it refuses to end. the agreement.
Mr. WHEELER (Mitchell) 1 8.26].- I had hoped to be able to make my address without having to correct false impressions created by honorable members opposite. Housing is a subject which should merit the serious and earnest consideration of honorable members on both sides of the House, but the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) again engaged in one of those flights of fancy which are becoming more and more a feature of his contributions to the debates in this1 House. He made an ill-judged attack on the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who knows more about housing than it is possible for the honorable member for Werriwa to have learned. In presenting his’ views he challenged the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) to give a legal opinion as to whether or not the Commonwealth had breached.’ the Commonwealth a.nd State Housing Agreement by failing to provide sufficient funds to the State governments for housing purposes. The honorable, member then gave a considered opinion of his sm, hi which he attempted to inc-rude the honorable member for Balaclava. The honorable member for Werrima considers himself to be the voice of his- party. He pledges: his- party in relation to various1 matters “whenever he rises to speak. However, he assumes a very- great responsibility when he says that he can accept responsibility for indicating the views of the honorable member for Balaclava on this matter. The honorable member for Balaclava is eminently entitled to form his own views on legal matters, but the honorable member for Werriwa is not so favorably placed as his legal thinking has already been done folium by his learned father-in-law. He came into this chamber and, assuming the role of his father-in-law, thought that he could pre-judge the views of the honorable member for Balaclava. He would have given much more reasoned consideration to this matter and would require more facts than are at present disclosed before he would agree that a breach of the agreement had been made by the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Werriwa did not show in any way that the provisions of the agreement had been broken by the Commonwealth because it had provided insufficient funds to the States. The true position is that the Commonwealth has given to the (States more money than they were entitled to receive. If the States did not apply the money given to them by the Commonwealth to the building of houses, responsibility rests on the honorable member for Werriwa to take up the matter with his co-socialists in the New South Wales Government and to ensure that they allocate to housing the amount of money which the honorable member deems should be allocated for that purpose. Let me dispense with the honorable member by saying that his judgments on these matters are obviously ill formed.
The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been in existence for eight years - time enough to demonstrate its complete failure. It has given us far fewer houses than we need at a cost far greater than most of the community can afford to pay. It has’ not solved the housing problem, and it is time that something was done to remedy its defects. I believe that something can be done to improve it. Developments in Sydney last year indicate that an infinitely better approach can be made to the problem. A scheme has been demonstrated in Sydney which seems capable of giving us more houses at a quicker rate and, above all, at lower cost. And this is no mere blueprint which exists only in the mind of some planner; the scheme is already working in Sydney and has delivered the goods. In fact, a similar method has been used in Great Britain for a number of years and now provides a large proportion of the new houses built in that country. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, despite what the honorable member for Werriwa has said about it, arose out of an arrangement between the socialist government in the Commonwealth sphere and State governments which were also predominantly Labour.
I do not think that the people realize even yet the disastrous position into which the agreement has led us, particularly in New South Wales. In that State the rents of houses owned by the New .South Wales Housing Commission are so high that many tenants who need houses most urgently simply cannot afford to pay them, and yet the commission isstill losing money. Nor are the tenants themselves happy even when they get commission homes. In my electorate one can drive along street after street containing hundreds of these houses, and the effect is often most depressing. Many of the tenants have made a brave effort to adapt themselves to their new locations. In some cases it has been entirely successful; in others it has not. There is little community life among the tenants of the commission. In some instances there are whole suburbs without even a public hall or meeting place. That is, perhaps, not surprising for these people have been gathered together as the result of the accident of a. ballot, often with little in common. When one talks to them one finds that many of them are unhappy at being compelled to live in suburbs that do not suit them, and in homes that are not of their own choice. The officers of the commission do their best to fall in with their wishes, but the whole conception of the scheme is that the State dictates to a man where he shall live and in what type of house he shall live. In respect of a matter so personal as this, the whole concept of the scheme is wrong.
Many of the tenants are young couples who married during or after the war.
My own marriage was a war-time marriage. I had to face the problem of establishing a home under very difficult circumstances of the post-war era. I can sympathize with these married couples. I am afraid that many of them have had their dreams shattered and suffer profound disillusionment. The seriousness of the situation is illustrated by the fact that the turnover of tenants in housing commission homes in my electorate is alarming. Families go there, stay a few months, or even a few weeks, and move out again. Rents are fixed without logic or fairness. They have no relation to the worth of the house, but depend upon construction costs, which in turn depend upon when the house was built. A tenant may find that he is paying twice as much as another tenant of a precisely similar house, simply because his house was built two or three years later than that of the other tenant. That inevitably causes discontent.
The New South Wales Housing Commission first began to operate in true socialist style, putting up its dwellings by day labour. However, that was a complete failure. There were rows and rows of partly completed dwellings scattered all over the countryside, and practically no usable homes. Pressure from the New South Wales Government’s own supporters forced it to switch from the day labour to the contract system. Such hardened and dogmatic advocates of day labour as the members of the New South Wales Government would not have abandoned the daylabour system unless it had broken down utterly. So, Ave may be sure that the failure of the day-labour system in. the building of cottages was complete. However, if the day-labour system is pure socialism, the contract system under government management is private enterprise in handcuffs. Battling against the frustration of government , control at every turn, the contractors provided houses, but costs began to climb at an alarming rate. These costs have gone far too high.
The New South Wales Government is continually wailing for more money for the New South Wales Housing Commis sion. We in this Parliament have to consider whether it is fair to the taxpayers and the general public to give more millions of pounds to the States to be wasted by housing commissions in the way that those bodies have been wasting money in the last few years. In the long run it is the homeless who pay through the nose for houses built at too high a cost, and who suffer if an inadequate number of houses is built with the money handed over to the States. In spite of the partial breakdown of government home building in New South Wales in the last year, the number of homes actually completed in that year constituted a record for New South Wales, largely hecause of the efforts of private home builders and co-operative building societies. I believe that co-operative building societies are the brightest spot in the building picture. While they represent a form of true private enterprise it is still not free enterprise at it3 best because co-operative building societies for the most part can work only in single units. For this reason they have suffered from too great an increase of costs. The system of financing home builders which is used by the societies is excellent. It has enabled many thousands of people to build homes, and bad debts are practically unknown in the co-operative building society movement. The problem is to combine this method of financing with the economies of largescale operations in the actual construction work. This has been done in the most interesting way in several projects in Sydney, the first of which, at Miranda, was completed some time ago. This project provides an example not of what oan be done, but of what has been done. The houses have been sold and the owners are now occupying them. Although this is a large-scale enterprise I do not want the House to think that it is producing uniform houses on a mass production system. On the contrary, all the houses built under that project are different from one another. The buyer chooses his own design, within the limits of the overall plan and according t9 cost. The houses at Miranda were sold at the bank’s valuation of £3,S00, including the land, for brick houses with three bedrooms, which are situated three minutes from a suburban railway station and are provided with all the usual amenities, including hot water system services, electric stoves, &c.
One big advantage of the scheme is that the buyer sees what he is getting, and to that extent is in a better position even than the man who Builds his own house. The company first builds a show house, right on the estate, which is furnished and thrown open for inspection. The prospective buyers of similar houses then arrange for their own variations of the design. The matter of finance naturally arises, and in that connexion a Commonwealth instrumentality played a large part in the Miranda scheme. Finance was provided through a cooperative society but, in effect, the firm was given an understanding that if it were prepared to sell at the bank’s valuation finance would be available to the purchasers through a building society.
The company took a risk, because it had to spend large, amounts of its own money before it knew whether or not it would get a satisfactory return. It might well have made losses, but the beauty of the private enterprise system from the community’s point of view is that if the project had failed the company would have borne the loss. Under the Commonwealth, and State housing scheme the unfortunate taxpayer has to make good any deficiencies.
In this instance the outlines of a really sound method of overcoming the housing shortage in New South Wales are emerging. Instead of paying over many millions of pounds each year to the States under the wasteful Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, let us use at least some of that money to provide more finance to the home builder. Let us say to any builder who has the facilities for large-scale construction, “ Submit us your proposition. We shall inspect the land, and examine the plans and specifications of the houses. Our valuers will then put a price on them. If you undertake to sell at that figure we shall undertake to provide finance for the purchasers, up to 80 per cent, of the selling price”. I believe that the British company which is behind the Miranda scheme gave purchasers a fair deal. However, what we want in home building is competition, which is the life-blood of free enterprise, but which was entirely destroyed in New South Wales by the Housing Commission. I believe that once it was understood that the Government would provide the finance, a number of other builders and building companies would come into the field. Once we get them bidding against one another the cost of home-building should really start to come down.
It might be asked why should not the co-operative building society handle the whole scheme, that is, do the construction work as well as the financing. The answer is that, in theory, there is no objection. However, large-scale building is an involved and difficult business which needs very experienced management in order to get real economy. As a matter of fact, a co-operative project was tried in my own electorate. It lost a lot of money, and the New South Wales Government, which guaranteed it, had to foot the bill. For the sake of the taxpayer I prefer that private operators, who bear their own losses, should be responsible.
Another problem is, where is the land to be had? In New South Wales at least, the answer is simple. The New South Wales Housing Commission has thousands of acres of good building land that it has tied up, although it has no immediate prospect of using it. The commission was established to overcome the housing shortage, and it apparently concluded that the shortage would last at least 50 years to judge by the amount of land it acquired. That might indeed be the case if we have to rely on tho present socialistic programme to overcome the shortage. I suggest that the estates which the commission cannot use within a reasonable time be handed over to the Commonwealth at cost of acquisition, which would be credited to part repayment of its housing advances. The Commonwealth could then make the land available to any one who had the facilities necessary to carry out a housing project. At the same time it could take the opportunity of rectifying any injustice to tho former owners of the land. It is well known that some States took over estates at confiscatory prices, and, in many cases, have not as yet paid anything for the land although it was resumed several years ago. The Commonwealth could fix prices for the new buyers which, while not burdensome to the eventual home owner, would still represent fair value for the land. This would provide a surplus from which it could make payments to the former owners based on reasonable compensation for resumption.
There is one other way in which we could help the home seeker. At the present time the building regulations of some States are antiquated, and unnecessarily inflate building costs. A Liberal colleague in New South Wales, Mr. D. Stewart Fraser, M.L.A., who, as Director of the Building Industry Congress, is an expert on the industry, has made a study of this subject. He has estimated that an amount of £347 a house could be saved by certain alterations, which he detailed, without sacrificing building standards. It is necessary, of course, to take every precaution in. such matters. However, where experts are agreed - and they are agreed regarding some of these regulations - we could very well say to a State, “ We are prepared to finance your home builders, but we are not prepared to compel them to waste their money. If you wish us to extend the scheme to your State, you must be prepared to modernize your regulations “. Here is a method of having more houses built quicker and cheaper, which should go a great way towards solving the problems of the man who wishes to own his home.
There would remain, of course, the problems of two other important sections of the community. The first section consists of the many people who want to rent houses rather than own them. I fear that nothing can be done for them while the State Government continues with its present policy of imposing rent control on new as well as old buildings. The State has controlled rents so thoroughly that it is no longer a sound proposition to build a house to let. This has had the result of accentuating .the shortage of homes. The other class that T have in mind consists of those people who now occupy housing commission homes. Many whom I know would like to purchase .their homes, but the method of fixing purchase prices has become bogged down in argument ‘between the Commonwealth and the State, as has happened with so many matters that are dealt with by both governments. It is desirable that tenants should be given the first opportunity to purchase housing commission homes on easy terms and at fair values, but I am totally opposed to the idea of leaving the proceeds in the hands of the States in view of their sorry record as landlords. The problem of providing houses for the people is extremely complex. The New South Wales Government, owing to the lack of adaptability which arises from departmental handling and management, has failed to measure up to the requirements of the situation in that State. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, on its present basis, has not resulted in the construction of houses in adequate numbers or at satisfactory prices. There is a pressing need to overhaul the agreement and I hope that, if it is overhauled, the socialistic approach of the New South Wales Government, which has enabled an ambitious Minister to lay many foundation stones without providing ^sufficient houses, will be thrown aside and that a plan for a fairer deal will emerge.
.- This bill is designed to give effect for 1953-54 to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which first came into force under legislation enacted in 1945 as a part of the former Labour Government’s post-war reconstruction policy of social justice for all. It was based upon recommendations made by the Commonwealth Housing Commission, which reported at the end of World War II. that there was a shortage of 400,000 houses in Australia and that an estimated additional number of 400,000 would be required by newcomers in the ensuing ten years. A programme for the construction of 80,000 houses a year over a period of ten years was laid down. Before I proceed to discuss this programme, I wish to reply to the charges made by the honorable member for Mitchel] (Mr. Wheeler) and the honorable member for Bennelong (“Mr. Cramer) against the New South Wales Housing Commission. The fact is that the commission has arranged for houses to be constructed by private enterprise. Contracts are let after firm tenders have been submitted to the commission on a competitive basis. That fact disposes completely of the statements made by the two honorable members on this subject. I give full credit to private enterprise for the fact that some very fine houses have been erected by this methodon behalf of the Housing Commission. Many of them are in the electorate that I represent, where happy families are blessing the Housing Commission and the former Australian Labour Government that arranged for the construction and financing of their homes.
The building trade took some time after the end of the war to gear itself for the ten-year programme that I have mentioned. In the early stages, the full target of 80,000 houses a year was not reached, but the rate of construction on behalf of the Housing Commission was fast approaching that figure when the Chifley Government went out of office. In fact, approximately 200,000 houses had been constructed under the programme at that time. By September, 1951, the annual target figure had been passed and the programme was fast overtaking the arrears that existed at the end of the war. The following table shows the number of houses that were under construction at the end of successive quarterly periods from the end of September, 1951 : -
The last figure was over 5,000 beyond the annual target that had been set. However, with the full impact of the horror budget, aggravated, by the Government’s credit restriction policy, the rate of construction began to wane, as the remainder of the table shows -
Those figures disclose a reduction of the annual rate of construction by nearly 14,000 houses since the peak period was reached in 1952. Now the programme is actually falling behind, instead of progressing and overtaking the arrears. The situation is made worse by the fact that, since the war, between 700,000 and 800,000 immigrants have entered Australia, most of them to settle permanently.
The number of houses completed in each year of the programme up to date is shown in the following table: -
The total number of houses completed in the eight years of the programme to the 30th June last was 420,754. Thus at that stage we had virtually overtaken the lag at the end of the war, but, as I have shown, the lag is again increasing.We have only two years left in which to complete the full programme of 80,000 homes. According to a conservative estimate, the 500,000 or 600,000 immigrants who have settled permanently in Australia will require only 100,000 houses at that time. This will leave a total shortage of 500,000 houses, and so we shall be 100,000 houses further behind than we were when the war ended. In fact, the situation will probably be worse than those figures indicate because the programme has not provided for slum clearance, which was another matter to which the Commonwealth Housing Commission directed attention in 1945. Once again, the Government has failed to honour one of its pre-election promises to deal with an urgent social problem. It has not fulfilled its obligations to men and women who made sacrifices for their country in World War II. A former Labour Prime Minister, the late John Curtin, declared that the Labour party, if it was in office in the post-war period, would ensure that those sacrifices were not made in vain, and that ex-servicemen who helped to make Australia a land fit for heroes to live in, would not be “ sold out “ and forgotten as they had been in the past. Unfortunately, the Chifley Labour Government did not remain in office long enough to complete the social programme which it had been steadfastly pursuing. The Menzies Government, which succeeded it, has run true to form, and its record is in keeping with the traditional attitude of antiLabour governments to this social problem. Anti-Labour governments create artificial economic depressions and unemployment, and neglect to provide houses for the people.
The housing problem caused by the financial policy of the Menzies Government has grave social implications in this young, developing country. Australia, for geographical and other reasons, urgently requires a bigger population. Adequate housing is an essential factor to an increase of population. I remind honorable members of the oft repeated adage that the Australian baby is our best migrant. Unfortunately, this Government discourages young people who desire to marry and have families. Evidently, the human species is the only species that is frustrated in the matter of obtaining shelter and rearing its young. The birds of the air, and the animals of the field and forest are not prevented by financial considerations from providing shelter for their young. Money is our god to-day. Couples should be encouraged to settle down and have families when they are young, particularly before the age of 25, which is estimated to be the year of greatest fertility. Many people do not marry when they are young because they are mi able to obtain dwellings. I mention, in passing, the excellent work performed by co-operative societies in making it possible for people to purchase their homes. I am pleased and proud to be associated with this movement. In fact, I had the honour of forming the first co-operative building society in the metropolitan area of Sydney in 1936. Many married people at that time, as the result of financial difficulties during the depression years, had not been able to purchase their homes, and the building societies found that the average age of -their members in 1937 was 42 years. By 1939, the average age of the members had fallen to 28 years, and I venture to sa.y that, had the war not intervened, the average age would have been reduced in the next few years, even to the age of greatest fertility. During the period of which I am speaking, many parents enrolled their children as members of building societies in order to provide them with substantial equities in those organizations, so that when they desired to marry, they would be able to make a substantial deposit on cottages.
The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was intended to widen the field that had been explored by the building societies, but the scheme, in its initial stages, was regarded as an emergency measure only. Under this agreement, the Commonwealth had a solemn and binding obligation to the States. Indeed, I agree with the opinion that has been expressed that the Commonwealth has a legal obligation to fulfil the requirements of the States in this matter. In the electorate of Reid. thousands of families are herded into hostels controlled by the New South “Wales Housing Commission, which has more than 100,000 names on its books. The ultimate objective of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement was to permit tenants to purchase the homes. Such a provision is contained in the agreement, and an assurance was given years ago that a tenant who established an equity in a house would be given the first option to purchase it.
Each tenant, if he wishes to buy the dwelling that he is occupying and is able to pay a small deposit, has the opportunity to become the owner of the house, but, unfortunately, the purchase must be re-financed through another source, because the New South Wales Housing Commission has not the necessary power,’ under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, to sell a cottage on easy terms over a long period of years. Consequently, an alteration of the agreement appears to be necessary to meet that difficulty. Perhaps provision could be made for the commission to obtain an overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank, or some other financial institution guaranteed by the Commonwealth Bank, to meet this situation. After all, a builder who erects a number of cottages probably obtains an overdraft from a bank, and as he sells a cottage, he reduces his obligation with that financial institution, or proceeds to erect ‘ additional cottages. The New South Wales Housing Commission should have a similar simple arrangement in place of the rigid procedure under which it is compelled, when it sells a cottage to an individual, to repay the money to the Commonwealth. Then the Premier of New South Wales has to come cap in hand to the Australian Loan Council each year with a request for funds to finance the erection of additional houses. The whole procedure is too unwieldy to be satisfactory. The necessary funds could be made available through the Commonwealth Bank, if private financial institutions were not_ prepared to play their part, to provide for the refinancing of the purchases of dwellings from the New South Wales Housing Commission. Pair valuations must also be placed on cottages. Under the present arrangement, the Housing Commission may have a project for 100 dwellings, but it cannot sell any of the cottages until the hundredth has been completed, because the overall average price cannot be worked out any earlier. Provision should be made for a valuation to be placed! on a particular dwelling, if necessary, so that it, can be sold at a fair price before other cottages in the same group under construction ha:ve been completed.
I hope that the matters I have mentioned will receive serious consideration, because many people a.re still in urgent need of houses. I urge the. Commonwealth to comply with the requirements of the States under the terms of the housing agreement,, and provide larger allocations for this purpose than hitherto. Many distressing cases have come to my notice of families who* acre without proper accommodation. The Sydney Sunday Sun, in its issue on the 2nd August, last, published tha results of a surrey conducted in various districts, of people who wished to obtain houses, particularly cottages, from the New South Wales Housing Commission. The article was published under the heading -
These People Do Not Need Homes, Say the Housing Officials.
That caption is hardly fair to the commission, which is fairly screaming, to the Commonwealth for additional rooney for its requirements. The article reads, in part,, as follows: -
The Sunday 8!un to-day concludes ;tq series discussing the failure of State housing in New South Wale*, with the stories- of a. number of unfortunates who cannot. hope lor relief from, the. Housing Commission.,
Since the series started,, scores of people have written or phoned the Sunday Sun asking to have their cases ventilated.
The Sydney Sunday Sun could not be described as a newspaper that was particularly partial to the Labour party. I shall read the references to only two of the families that are mentioned in the article -
Mr. and Mrs. S. Baddeley, of Woodstockstreet, Guildford, live in a room 11 feet by 1U feet with their children aged two years ami six weeks.
The Baddeleys applied two years ago for emergency accommodation. Mrs. Baddeley then was living with her parents at Woy Woy. The elder child, Lynette was with her.
Mr. Baddeley lived with his parents at Guildford and visited his wife at week-ends.
A most undesirable state of affairs -
Mrs. Baddeley said:
My husband managed to get ns this room ;it Guildford although, it was barely large enough for us to, get the baby’s cot in with, the furniture.
We pay £2. 5s. a week including gas and electricity. I’ve written so many letters to tin: commission and to the Housing Minister, Mr. Evatt, personally, that every time I come into the office to try to get some satisfaction, I’m told, “My word, you’ve got a big file, haven’t you ? “ “ Living together in the one room. affected us oil. Lynette developed nervous, ticket’ and now has to wear specially built-up shoes. “My husband is suffering from nervous asthma and he often, in the middle of the night., has to, go to the doctor for an injection. I was pretty desperate when I knew the second baby was coming, but I thought the commission would be sure to do something for us.”
Mrs. Baddeley said that since her baby was born; six weeks ago, she had been . ill. She said: “My bed is only six inches away from Lynette’s cot and when the baby grows too hig for the bassinet. I don’t know what I’ll do:”
There is the further case of Mrs. J. Reid, of Carramar, who is just eighteen years of age. T’he report continues -
She rs- expecting her first, child next month. w nd she audi her husband expect. to> be evicted to-morrow from an unlined iron shed. She asked the Housing. Commission-, this week for temporary accommodation but they promised nothing-. She said - “I am not, one of the. people who have been waiting, years. I applied at the commission six mouths ago, but they were so vague I; didn’t even bother to fill in the form.
Ho.w can the Housing Commission deal with these cases, when it has thousands of applicants who have been waiting for years ? The. report, further states - “ We were living- with, my mother at the time and I felt sure that something, would, tu rnup. My mother had to leave her home. *n there is no hope of us. going back to her. P happened to meet a lady who told me of an old shed at the back of her house. She didn’t charge rent but last week the landlord told her if we didn’t leave she would bc evicted. I just haven’t got any hope.”
Both these cases are from my electorate ami the report cites, the further case. of a family living in a tent, and others who are living under all sorts of undesirable conditions. It seems that young people in the community have been completely discouraged from obtaining homes of their own and fulfilling the obligations of domestic life, particularly in their years of greatest fertility.
The marriage statistics reveal a very sad state of affairs, indeed. The Commonwealth Year-book for 1950 discloses that in that year there were only 75,599 marriages in a population now bordering on 9,000,000. An analysis of the ages of the young couples shows that i!2,70f(, or only 43 per cent., were under 2’0 years of age, the age of greatest fertility. For those over 25 and under 30 years of age the figure was 21,390, or 28 per cent, of the population, and for those over 30 years of age the figure was 21,500, or approximately 28 per cent. The overall average age of bridegrooms marrying in 1950 was 28.99. I venture to suggest that for wives the a verage age was three years less. Incidentally, the average life of women is three years longer, so it would seem that the financial burden on husbands must be considerably greater ! Those figures indicate, as I said, a very serious state of affairs, indeed! But there is a worse feature than that. In 1942, the number of marriages was S6,000 or 11.99 for each 1,000 of the population. In 1950, although, our population had substantially increased during the .intervening eight years, the number of marriages had dropped to 75,599 or 9.2 for each 1,000 of population. I submit that those figures carry the grave implications that there is a serious shortage of houses 1 further very tragic aspect of this matter is disclosed by the figures relating to births, particularly ex-nuptial births or those conceived out of wedlock. I shall not cite those figures, which are to be found on page 595 of the latest YearBooh. I received somewhat of a shock when I looked into them. I do not think it would be fair, particularly to the young people concerned, to cite those statistics, because, after all, the fault is not theirs’. The responsibility lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the government of the day, and’ of earlier governments, because of their failure to meet the housing needs of the community. Quite recently the press has given a lot of publicity to the case of one young woman, but I venture to suggest that such persons are more sinned against than sinning. I feel quite sure that a study of the figures will stir honorable members out of their apathy towards the housing shortage. That is not the whole sad story, because, when young people fall by the wayside, probably many of the young men do the right thing. They marry, and go to live with mother. Many learned divorce judges and social workers have stressed that such circumstances have, contributed towards the early break-up of marriages. 2Jb doubt the mother-in-law feels aggrieved because the young couple have been thrown upon her in that way. Various disagreements follow and the parties resort to the divorce court. In the year 1950 7,43 4 divorces were granted throughout Australia. In other words, the number of marriages broken up represents the equivalent of 10 per cent, of the total number of marriages in that year, a situation in regard to which housing must be a contributing factor. Moreover, the annual marriage rate fell from 10.65 persons for each 1,000 of population in 1946 to 9.24 persons for each 1,000 of population in 1949. An even more disturbing aspect of the matter is that for every 1,000 unmarried persons of marriageable age of over fifteen years there are only 71 married persons in the community. As I said, that, indeed, is very disturbing in a country like thi.? that needs a greater population, for it is obvious that many people will not accept the responsibility of matrimony because of the difficult housing position.
This state of affairs has an important social significance, and also affects the general economy of the nation, particularly the building industry. It is well known that over 100 allied, trades are associated with the building industry.
In fact, ithas been estimated that approximately 600 people are interested, directly or indirectly, in the construction of one home. The ramifications of the building industry extend throughout the economy of the country. The building industry is the key to prosperity, because, after all, everything hinges on the home. When the building societies in New SouthWales, to which reference has been made by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) and other honorable members, began to operate in 1937, 9 per cent. of the work force in New South Wales was unemployed. At that time, the unemployment rate in that State was the highest in Australia. Within two years as a result of the operations of co-operative building societies, the percentage of unemployment in New South Wales fell to 4½ per cent., the lowest unemployment rate inany of the States. The Chifley Government, by its housing and financial policy, brought prosperity, happiness and hope to many people in the community, but the hopes of people who are waiting for houses now have been crushed by the policy of this Government, which is to restrict credit for housing purposes. The building trade is in the doldrums, and New South Wales has felt the full force of the effects of this Government’s policy. The Sydney Morning Herald has stated -
The full severity of the building recession last year is dramatically illustrated in the New South Wales building statistics issued by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician. They show that home building slumped by nearly 50 per cent. Whereas in 1951 local councils and Government authorities in this State approved 35,051 houses and flats, in 1952 they approved only 18,916.
The number of houses and flats approved in New South Wales fell from 27,046 in 1946 to 18,916 in 1952.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.the Commonwealth Parliament in 1945 had not meddled with something that did not concern it, we should not be debating this measure to-day. It is well known that, prior to the war, housing was a matter exclusively within the jurisdiction of the States. There was no reason why it should not have remained within the jurisdiction of the States, or why each State should not have continued to evolve its own housing policy. However, the fact remains that this Parliament did meddle with housing in 1945 and to-day is so deeply involved in it that we must take the situation as it is and, in circumstances that should never have arisen, try to find the best solution.
I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) that housing is of vital importance to this country, socially, economically and from many other points of view. All honorable members would like to see available a sufficient number of homes of a reasonable standard, at prices that people could afford to pay. But, having agreed upon those points, a more difficult problem arises. How can we achieve an objective, on which there is no dissent? The criticism of honorable members opposite has followed certain well-worn paths. I shall not reply specifically to the honorable member for Reid, because he repeated arguments that had been adduced previously by other honorable members. I shall deal with the arguments one by one, and, in so doing, deal generally with the arguments presented by honorable members opposite. The Opposition has argued that the reason why there are not enough houses of adequate quality is that the Commonwealth has been niggardly in providing money for housing. One branch of that argument is that the Commonwealth has evaded its legal responsibility to provide as much money as the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement contemplated. Let us examine that claim. I do not like to quote statistics, but sometimes it is necessary to do so. In 1945-46, £6,795,000 was provided by the Commonwealth under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The figure rose steadily until, in 1950-51, it was £21,640,000. In this financial year, it is proposed that £37,200,000 shall be allotted to the States under the agreement. That is a six-fold increase, compared with 1945-46. We all know that the value of money has declined and that our population has increased, but I do not think any reasonable honorable member will deny that a six-fold increase of the money provided for housing has more than kept pace with the decline in the value of money arid the growth of our population, lt cannot be denied that very great progress has been made in thi3 connexion, although not as much as all of us wish.
One should not forget that the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement is not the only means by which money is made available so that people can acquire homes. There is also the war service homes scheme for which £2S,000,000 will be provided in this financial year. Still confining my remarks to the Commonwealth sphere, I point out that various Commonwealth departments, such as the Department of Territories, have expended substantial sums on housing. In addition, the Commonwealth Bank, in one way and another, has provided about £20,000,000 for housing. A sum of something like £90,000,000 in one year is, to say the least, a very substantial contribution by this Government to the solution of the housing problem. Every reasonable person, admits that that is so, although it may be in the interests of honorable members opposite to appear to be unreasonable on this matter and attempt to ‘mislead the people.
Let me deal with the suggestion that the Commonwealth has failed to carry out its obligations under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I shall not deal with all the legal aspects of that matter, because the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) has been challenged to express his opinion on it, as a distinguished lawyer, and I hope he will have an opportunity to do so. I shall deal with it from a practical viewpoint. Let us assume that the Commonwealth is bound to provide whatever money the States 3ay they need for housing. Let us assume also that the amount of money that can be made available to the States for works of all types is limited, as it is now, always has been and always must be. It is possible, for the States to say that they want £50,000,000 for housing this year, but if they were given that sum, they would have less money for other works. I presume it would be possible for the Commonwealth to say to the States, “Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement you are entitled to whatever money you request for housing purposes. You have asked for £50,000,000, and you shall have it. But we shall have to reduce your allocations for other works “. If that proposition were put to the States, they might well say, “ We do not want to rest on our legal rights under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. There must be some balance in our works programmes. We would rather have less money for housing, say £37,000,000, so that we shall have more money for other works “.
Let us remember that it is not only loan money that is being made available for housing and other works. The allocations consist of two elements, first, such loan money as can be raised on the loan market, and secondly, a supplement in the form of taxpayers’ money made available by this Parliament. I do not know howhonorable members opposite can reconcile their statements on this subject with their recent vigorous denunciation of high taxation. It may be that the two points of view ure irreconcilable. It may be that, in politics, they seek to gain the support of all sorts of people by enunciating all sorts of policies that cannot be reconciled or fitted together. If so, that, is grossly dishonest, politically speaking, and doubtless all sensible people realize that it i?.
I turn to another argument advanced by the Opposition. Honorable members opposite are great advocates of cheap money. Cheap money is a splendid thing for the person who receives it, but the person who provides it may take a different view. We expect to raise millions of pounds by government loans. Who subscribes to government loans? I suggest that, in the main, the money is provided by small people. In general, it comes from financial institutions such as insurance companies, which invest, not the huge funds that some individuals may have, but the money of thousands of sma people. When the Opposition talks abou;, cheap money, it means, in effect, that people who have been thrifty should lend their money cheaply. That is the other side of the picture. However, there is much to be said in favour of cheap money being made available to provide houses for people who cannot afford to pay economic rents. It is to work of that kind that the operations, of housing commissions should be limited. There is a case for cheap money for that purpose, and for governments to make a special effort in that regard. The fact is, as the Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) said last night, that cheap money has been provided at all times under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I think it was the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) who suggested - I am sure he did. not mean to mislead the House - that the provisions of clause 6 (3.) of the agreement have led to a higher rate of interest being charged on money provided under the agreement in recent times. The sub-clause states -
Rack advance shall bear interest at a rat* not exceeding the rate payable in respect of the long term Commonwealth Public Loan last raised prior to the date of the advance . . .
– Read the rest of the sub-clause.
– It is not relevant to my remarks. I want to point out only that the sub-clause states that the rate of interest shall not exceed a certain rate. The fact is that the interest rate has not been raised to that figure. If the Minister for Works told us the facts last night, as I have no doubt he did, he reminded us that the interest rate has remained constant throughout the period of operation of the agreement. It has remained at 3 per cent.
– Read the whole of the sub-clause.
– The sub-clause goes on to state - or ii a Loan is being raised at the date of any advance then that advance shall bear interest at the rate of interest to be paid in respect of the long term Loan then being raised.
– The words are “shall bear interest “.
– That is so, but the Commonwealth has apparently not insisted upon its rights. Perhaps it had a right to increase the rates, but it did not exercise that right. Surely honorable members opposite do not object to the generosity of the Government. Now let us pass to the next matter. I was rather mystified by the argument of the honorable member for Werriwa that provision should be made by the Commonwealth - as if the Commonwealth were the only party that had not tried to sell houses to the people and the States were to be exculpated from any blame - so that houses built by State housing authorities could be sold to tenants. Apparently, honorable members opposite would have us believe that there is no obligation at all on any of the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
– The States made proposals which were rejected by the Commonwealth.
– There has been no agreement at all among the States with respect to housing. I have been delighted and equally astonished by the arguments put forward by honorable members opposite about the ownership of houses by the people. I have always understood that the socialists -were of the opinion that the people should not own their own homes. We may read in the recitals to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement -
Whereas proposals were agreed upon relating to the carrying out of rental housing projects by the States:
And whereas the Commonwealth proposes to assist the States in the carrying out of the rental housing projects by making contribution to the States towards meeting any losses that may be incurred by a State in the administration of the rental housing projects;
Therefore, honorable members will perceive that in the very beginning of this charter put forward by the last Labour Government, it is clearly stated that the agreement is designed to deal with rental housing projects. The provisions of the agreement are completely unsatisfactory as far as the selling of houses is concerned. Now let us come to the matter raised by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). I have always held the apparently extraordinary belief that socialists ‘ maintain that the people should not own their own homes. In that regard I desire to quote from a speech of a former Labour Minister and member of the Parliament, on the occasion of the introduction of this measure in 1945. The gentleman concerned was Mr. Dedman, and according to volume 185 of Hansard at page 6265, he said -
The Commonwealth Government is concerned to provide adequate and good housing for the workers; it is not concerned with making the workers into little capitalists.
If there is any criticism which may be directed against the policies of past governments supported by the present Opposition, it is this: Too much of their legislative programmes was deliberately designed to place the workers in a position in which they would have a vested interest in the continuance of capitalism. That is a policy which will not have my support, at any rate.
In view of the principles laid down in the part of the speech made by Mr. Dedman when this agreement was introduced into the Parliament, it is not unreasonable for me to believe that he was stating the socialist attitude towards the ownership of homes by the people. However, we do not have to read Mr. Dedman’s statement to realize that that is really the socialist attitude. We know’ that it is a socialist article of faith that nobody shall be independent at all; that nobody shall he independent with respect to his home or his job, and that he must grovel, bow down and worship some socialist boss or other in order to rent a house or get a joh or do anything else that he wants to do. The juggernaut of the State must be worshipped. It is true that certain provisions were ‘made in the agreement for the sale of houses built by government authorities, but those provisions were regarded as very subsidiary matters, as honorable members may see by reading the agreement or by reading Mr. Dedman’s speech when he introduced the bill to ratify the agreement. Those provisions were quite inadequate, and did not result in the sale of a substantial number of houses to the people who wanted , them. I believe that the figures which I now intend to put before the House will be of some interest to honorable members. I have obtained them from the official statistics in each of the relevant States, and the percentages that I shall mention represent the proportion of homes sold under the agreement in relation to .the total number built under it in each State. In New South Wales, 4.5 per cent, of the houses have been sold to tenants, in Victoria, 0.44 per cent. ; in Queensland, 6.6 per cent.; and in Western Australia, rather extraordinarily, 20 per cent. It may be that the large proportion of government-built houses sold to tenants in Western Australia was due to the fact that, during the major part of the time that the agreement has been in operation, Western Australia has been administered by a Liberal government. Perhaps that government succeeded in overcoming all the obstacles put in the way of State governments by the last Labour Government.
It is very easy to sec why State governments faced difficulties when they wished to sell houses built under the agreement by State authorities. Honorable members will realize that as a result of the inflation of the currency, houses that were built in 1947 were built much more cheaply than similar houses can be erected to-day. At what prices are such houses to be sold, at cost price or at the present market price? The rent, of course, is based on the cost price. If such a house is to be valued at the present market price then obviously the tenant would have to make a greatly increased weekly payment towards repayment of the principal. It seems very curious to me that the honorable member for Werriwa should have been so concerned to ensure that tenants could buy their own homes. After all, he is a member of the Labour party, and a Labour government framed the original Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Moreover, the agreement was framed with the express object of discouraging sales of government-built houses, and his party, of all parties, should not complain because more of these houses have not been sold.
I have read the agreement very carefully, and I believe that its termination within twelve months will not be easy. There are all sorts of practical details to be considered which would lead one to believe that it would take much longer than twelve months to end the agreement. In any case, it must be terminated by the effluxion of time within the next two years.
Honorable members opposite have said that the Commonwealth is not supplying enough money to the States, that it is evading its legal obligations, that it should supply cheaper money and that the tenants should buy their own homes, and so on. Let us pass on from those arguments with which I have already dealt, and come to the matter of what is to be done about the agreement now. It appears that the State housing authorities have grown far beyond the original intention. I readily concede that there are some people who cannot afford to pay an economic rent, and some who have to live in rented homes because they have to move about the country. But, with all respect to the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), it appears to me that within the foreseeable future private enterprise will not be allowed to provide rental homes for the people. Therefore, it is imperative that the State housing authorities should be required to do the work they were originally intended to do, which is, to build houses purely for the people who cannot afford to pay an economic rent, and for those who cannot be expected to buy homes. It seems to me that something must be done in the re-casting of the agreement to ensure that out of the limited money available for housing - and the money available will always be limited no matter which party is in power - more provision should be made to enable the people to acquire their own homes. At the present time various obstacles stand in the way of that objective. The deposits required from people who wish to buy their houses are so high that very few can afford to pay them. Those who want to buy their own homes need low deposits, long terms and low interest rates. The agreement could be amended in respect of the value of houses that could be constructed under its terms. State housing authorities should return to their original .function of providing what may be called uneconomic housing, and then more scope should be given to people who want to provide their own homes by the Government making provision for small deposits, low interest rates and so on.
If this country, or any country, is to nourish, it will do so only on the basis of the freedom and independence of its people. No nation of slaves can ever be great, nor can it even hold what it has. It is in insidious ways such as those contemplated by Labour governments in the introduction and administration of this agreement, that the independence, character and quality of a people can be destroyed. A housing policy that induces people to lean upon others instead of helping themselves, will tend to destroy the nation. However, there is always an obligation on all governments to make sure that conditions prevail- that will enable the people to stand on their own feet. It is along those lines that I have endeavoured to indicate that this agreement should be amended. If we can induce more people to acquire their own homes, we shall harness one of the most powerful forces in the country. That is the thriftiness of the individual. If a man can perceive that by denying himself expenditure on other less essential things he can acquire something of real value to himself, such, as a home, he will be thrifty, will strive and will, in the end, benefit himself and the country. The alternative to the encouragement of thrift is for governments to seek loan moneys for housing purposes. However, honorable members opposite advocate very .low interest rates. Now, there are two sides to arguments like that. We must ask ourselves whether people will be prepared to save money and lend it at low interest rates, or whether they will feel that the deprivation that makes it possible to save and lend is too great to be borne when the return from the low interest paid on their money is so small. People will not lend money unless it is worth their while to save it and lend it. Of course, the socialists approach the matter in another way. They say, “ Well, if the people won’t lend it we shall take it from them by way of taxation or capital levy “. In reply to that I say that if people who earn money find that it is being taken from them by way of taxation or capital levy for some socialistic purpose, a time will come when they will cease to bother to earn money. I suggest that the best means of stimulating house construction in Australia is to make it easy for people to acquire their own homes, thereby harnessing to the drive the most powerful motive of thrift, for the ordinary person is eager to save for something which he regards as worth while.
.- The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) quoted from Hansard in order to make a point. The statement that I shall quote, which does not appear in Hansard, is as follows: -
Except in relation to the Territories and war service homes, the direct responsibility for housing is with the State governments. But the Commonwealth must accept . large obligations of assistance. There is already a Commonwealth-States housing agreement. We will seek its amendment so as to permit and aid “ little capitalists “ to own their own homes.
– Where does that statement appear? ,
– It is published in a booklet entitled “ J oint Opposition Policy- 1949 “.
– It is known as “ Ming’s Masterpiece “.
– It bears on its1 cover an excellent reproduction of a photograph of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).
– What is wrong with that?
– There is this wrong with it : the Prime Minister promised to amend and to make use of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement to assist little people to own their own homes. If he had honoured that promise his action would have coincided with the policy of the Labour party. We believe that every family should have the opportunity to own its own home and when we again form the government we shall do everything possible to reach that desirable objective. Unfortunately, Labour has not been in office long enough to implement its policy. During the 53 years of federation, governments of the same political complexion as the present Government have been in office in the Commonwealth for 40 years. That is why so few people in Australia own their own homes. The honorable member for Bradfield told us that if the States had not muddled the housing scheme more houses would have been provided for the people. I do not agree with the honorable member. On the contrary, I believe that if this Government had not muddled the housing scheme many more houses would have been built. I understand that the Government is now interfering in Western Australia, where the State Labour Government is trying to build more .houses for the people. It has tried to prevent the State Government from building houses in the federal electorate of Curtin because it fears that if houses are built there the honorable member for Curtin, the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), might lose his seat in this Parliament. For that reason it has asked the State Government to build houses elsewhere.
The people appreciate the efforts of State Labour governments to provide houses for them, and they show their appreciation in a practical way by supporting Labour candidates at State elections. Under the Commonwealth aud State Housing Agreement the Commonwealth is obliged to provide money to finance the scheme and the States are obliged to acquire land and build houses on it. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth has fallen down on its part of the bargain. During each year in which this Government has been in office, instead of providing the money requested by the States for housing purposes, it has cut down the State estimates by many millions of pounds. The biggest housing settlement in the Commonwealth is located in my electorate. The people who live in the settlement are there not because they choose to be there, but because they have been evicted from their homes by their former landlords. The huts in the settlement, which were used for hospital purposes during the war . period, have been converted to provide accommodation for homeless people. The State Government has made the settlement as comfortable as possible. It is sewered and electricity services are provided, but, at best, life in the settlement is community living of the most emergency nature. If this Government had not reduced the estimates furnished by the New South Wales Government each year, many of the people who now live in the settlement would be living in their own homes. The Commonwealth reduced the amounts .requested by the States from £52,000,000 to £37,000,000, which means that the persons who are living in the housing settlement in my electorate will have-to remain there for three years instead of two years. The New South Wales Government assembled an excellent plant and work force for the building of houses. When it got the scheme working in top gear it was unable to carry on because of the shortage of funds. This Government has not only violated the promise made by the Prime
Minister to assist people to own their own homes ; it has also rendered the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement almost useless by refusing to grant sufficient money to enable the States to carry out their responsibilities under the agreement. This year, the New South “Wales Government ‘asked for £20,000,000 for housing purposes and it is to receive only £12^450,000. Victoria asked for £20,000,000 and it is to receive £12,000,000. Queeusland and .South Australia asked for £7,000,000 and. they are to receive £4,500,000. “Western Australia asked for £6,000,000 and it is to receive £3,750,000.
The £37,000,000 to be” provided by the lull will not be sufficient to build anything like the number of houses needed to overtake the lag. On the basis of a construction cost of £2,500 it will be sufficient to build only 14,800 houses. As the total shortage is 420,000 houses, the building of .14,000 houses will do little to overtake the lag. The money to be provided under this bill is intended to finance only a tenant scheme and it will do nothing to honour the Government’s promise to provide a home for every family.
The housing shortage in Australia has’ become increasingly serious during the last 25 years. The shortage first began during the financial and economic depression of the ‘thirties. It was accentuated during “World War II. when the construction . of new dwellings almost ceased. In 1931, which was a typical depression year, there were 39,000 marriages in Australia hut only 5,000 houses were built. Thus, in that year alone the lag was increased by 34,000. In 1943 there were 79,000 marriages but only 5,000 houses were built because we were then, in the worst year of the war. In 1951, another typical year, there were 77^000 marriages, and although house building was then in top gear, we built only 67,000 houses. In that year 30,000 new Australian families arrived in Australia. If we add the number of new arrivals to the number of marriages it will be seen that although 107,000 ‘ houses were needed only 67,000 were built. Thus, in that year alone, we increased the shortage of houses by 40,000 units. In calculating requirements we must ‘consider the number of obsolete houses that have to be replaced and the necessity to institute slum clearance programmes. The .cessation of house construction during a war is understandable, but there was no excuse for housing .construction to be retarded during the depression years, when men and materials were available in abundance. During the depression years our sister dominion, New Zealand, recruited building tradesmen in Australia to implement its housing programme. The New Zealand Labour Government of the day did not restrict credit during the period of deflation.
This Government concentrates its attention upon the adjustment of trade and commerce and the balancing of budgets in order to maintain economic stability for a few monopoly capitalists, and tends to neglect the economic welfare of the people. The first duty of a government is to provide for the welfare of the people. The increase or decrease of the national debt is an insignificant matter compared with the “welfare of the individual citizens who constitute the nation. In a time of war there is no obstacle to the flow of money to finance activities that have to be undertaken. There should be no obstacle to the steady flow of money in times of peace. The Government, instead of keeping its promise to provide homes for the people, has made home ownership more difficult for them than it used to be. Prior to the general election of 1949 the metropolitan, provincial and country press carried large advertisements inserted by the anti-Labour parties which bore the slogan “ A home for every family “. A film was exhibited throughout the country -which showed a beautiful home and conveyed the impression that such a home would be available to the people if they elected the anti-Labour parties to office. These inducements were in the nature of a bribe designed to secure the votes of the people. The sources from which money is made available for home ownership arc completely inadequate. Last year, one of the sources - the cooperative building societies - made available for home purchases an amount of £8,500,000, and the Commonwealth Bank through its Credit Foncier Department, made available £4,500,000.. Of course th ut money did not reach people who really needed help to finance home building, because the only people who could make use of that system were people who already had a considerable amount of money at their disposal. The Credit Foncier system makes available only t’J ,850 towards the construction of a home, and most homes require a much larger amount. Intending home-owners would have to borrow at least another £1,200 to be able to build even a humble home in these da.ys of high prices. The other home building plan is the war service homes scheme, the benefits of which are confined to ex-servicemen. It called for an expenditure of £25,000,000 last year. The same amount this year would not achieve much because, as previous speakers on this side of the House have shown, increased costs would, prevent the financing of as many houses as such a sum provided last year. Increased building costs possibly a verage £400 a. house.
The total amount from, all these sources - the co-operative societies, the Commonwealth Bank and the War Service Homes Division - last year was £3S,000,000. Wow, when the cost of an average home is £3,000, that amount would build only about 12,000 or 12,500 houses. Home ownership opportunities for the 100,000 families that require homes arc, therefore, poor at the moment. There is opportunity for only about oneeighth of the people who want homes to build them. The amount of £37,000,000 to be provided for State housing programmes will finance the building of only about 12,000 homes at an average cost of £3,000 each, and they are to be provided- on a. rental basis only. It is expected that this year 80,000 couples will marry, and that we shall increase our population by 20,000 new Australians who will want homes. That means that :i 00,000 additional homes will be necessary this year. However, only about 25,000 families will be able to afford to build their own homes, which will leave 75,000 to obtain’ homes, by other means. We know that those other means are well beyond the incomes of most salary and wage earners. It is necessary to have a good bank balance ready to be able to pay the deposit and look forward to paying the interest involved in borrowing money to build a. home under present conditions.
Statistics show that home ownership has been at its highest level during the regimes of Labour administrations. The census of 1933 shows that at that time 31 per cent, of the people living in houses owned them. In 1942, after years of anti-Labour administration, the figure had fallen to 2S per cent. In 1947, after two Labour governments had been in office, and even in the face of the war and post-war difficulties, the percentage had risen to 36 per cent. Labour governments made money available at a cheaper interest rate, hence the higher percentages during their terms of office. One great bar to home ownership is the high interest rate on money for home building. Interest rates have risen under this Government because it has yielded to the pressure of stock exchange investors. The increase of interest rates by -J- per cent, approved by this Government will add £270 in interest charges to the cost of a home built for £2,500 and paid for over a period of 30 years. Five per cent, interest on the same terms would mean that the cost of the home would he doubled. A rate of interest that would double the cost of a. home is unfair. Because the money advanced by the Commonwealth in respect of home building increases the interest bill on the national debt, the extra -J- per cent, interest will add enough to the bill to finance the construction of many homes. The cost, in loan money, of World “War II., was £1,500,000,000. which was mostly borrowed at a rate of 2$ per cent, or 3 per cent, interest, and never at more than 3& per cent. Those loans are falling due, and will keep falling due for the next ten years. Because the Government has permitted interest rates to rise and has, in fact, encouraged them to rise, because it represents people who gain from high interest rates-
– The honorable gentleman does not know what he is talking about. The Loan Council and not the Government, fixes the interest rate.
– This Government wants the interest rate to rise because the increase will benefit most of its own supporters and members. Because the Government has allowed the interest rate to rise the interest bill during the next ten years on the money borrowed to defend this country during the war will be increased by £210,000,000. Imagine how many houses could be built for that great amount of money. It would build about 100,000 homes. But home-building is not the policy of this Government. By its lack of interest in the national needs in respect to housing the Government is responsible, as the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) has stated, for separating many families. The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) talked about finding room for 70,000 families in existing buildings. He is out of touch with the common people, because I know that in my electorate in many instances three families are living in a house designed to accommodate one family. The honorable member for Bennelong would try to cram more families into such a house. The statistics relating to marriages and the intake of new Australians show that we are 420,000 homes short of requirements.
– Have a look at the census figures.
– I am referring to the census figures. By reducing grants to the States, restricting credit and increasing the interest rate this Government is hamstringing the building of an adequate number of homes. The Government should take cognizance of the fact that the prime objective of every Australian family is to own its own home.
– What did Mr. Dedman say? “Mr. COSTA. - The Government’s prime objective is not to encourage home ownership. On the contrary, it is doing many thing3 to make home ownership impossible. The ownership of a home is also the first target of a young married couple. There will be 80,000 marriages in this country this year, but the whole resources of the nation apparently can provide for the building of only 60,000 houses. Home ownership has been regarded as the passport to independence in old age. For most people it has been the chief social incentive in life. It has produced more healthy robust effort than has any other factor in industry. The breadwinner who is in the process of buying a home has always been regarded as a solid citizen and a good worker. Home ownership has made for happy contented home life in most instances. The Labour party’s policy is to provide a home for every family. We believe in private home ownership in every degree, and one of the first essentials is that every family should have an opportunity to own its own home. When Labour again gains office next year one of the first things- to which it will give attention will be the restoration of the Commonwealth Bank to a position in which it will be able to assist people to own their own homes.
Mr. wight (Lilley) [5.11].- I should imagine, Mr. Speaker, that, after your long experience in the Parliament, there would be reason for you to be amused, but in no way amazed, at the proof provided by this debate of the fact that the policy pursued by the Labour party when in office is the complete reverse of the policy, that it enunciates when it is in Opposition. Throughout this debate we have heard honorable members opposite proclaim strongly their belief in home ownership. Yet a prominent member of the last Labour Government made a most revealing statement to the contrary, which was mentioned a few moments ago by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner). Mr. Dedman, who was Minister for Post-war Reconstruction in the Chifley Government, in referring to a suggestion that had been made by an honorable member that homes should be provided on a home ownership basis, replied, as reported in Hansard of the 2nd October, 1945, Vol. 1S5 at page 6265-
The honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) suggested that, instead of- augmenting the family income by the payment of child endowment, we should provide for the sale of houses at lower prices and that it should be possible to use the money now paid in child endowment to amortize the cost of such an undertaking. He said that in this way we would make the average worker a capitalist. That is too big a problem for me to discus: in detail to-night, but there is one argument which I would put forward: The Commonwealth Government is concerned to provide adequate and good housing for the workers: it is not concerned with making the workers into little capitalists.
That is an enunciation of a policy of the Labour party. Yet to-day we have heard members of the Labour party, now in Opposition indicate that though they do not like the present healthy trend towards home ownership when the people are getting away from life in State-owned houses, they are in favour of home ownership. The bill seeks to provide a sum of £37,200,000 to the States for housing purposes and to give the Government the authority to raise that money by way of loan. I should like to say at the very outset that I am strongly opposed in principle to this bill, because I believe that if the Australian Government is to accept the responsibility for raising that money from the people it should also have some responsibility regarding the manner in which it is to be expended. However, according to the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement tho Commonwealth has absolutely no responsibility in that connexion, nor can it assume such a responsibility irrespective of how irresponsible may be the .actions of the States in expending the money. Unfortunately, every member of the Parliament must support this measure because we are under a legal obligation to support it, as a result of certain clauses in the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, which, I venture to say, is the most loosely and badly drafted document over presented to this Parliament.
– Who was the AttorneyGeneral then?
– The Attorney-General was the right honorable gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition.
Before I discuss the agreement, I shall refer to some of the statements made last night by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), who said that the agreement should be amended so as to give the States the opportunity to sell houses to their tenants. Let me assure the honorable member that, had he read the agreement closely, he would have discovered that it already confers upon the States the power to sell houses built under the agreement to the tenants.
– For a lump sum.
– The honorable member’s interjection indicates clearly that he has not studied this problem carefully. He must know that only in rare circumstances can the purchaser of a house pro vide the full amount required. Almost invariably the buyer must have recourse to a bank, building society, insurance company or other agency to obtain finance for the purpose of buying the house. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been implemented in such a way as to dry up many of these sources so that individuals who wish to buy their houses to-day find that there is only a limited number of avenues that they can explore in order to obtain finance.
I strongly support the suggestion that the. Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement should be terminated. Apart from the fact that it is loose and badly drafted, it obliges the Commonwealth to pay vast sums to the States for the purpose of providing houses as stipulated in the agreement. If we include the sum of £37,200,000 for which this bill provides, the total contribution by the Commonwealth to the States up to 1953-54 will be £178,200,000. This money has not been used efficiently. Good quality houses have not been provided, and the funds have not been used for slum clearance. In fact, in many instances, the money has been used to construct new slum areas which will continue to be slums until the buildings fall to pieces. The House is not ignorant of this fact, because honorable members must recollect clearly the statement that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made on the situation that exists at Zillmere, in Queensland. Honorable members must be aware that the money provided by the Commonwealth under the terms of the agreement has been used inefficiently. Furthermore, there is a. limit to the supply of labour and materials for house construction. The number of applications to the War Service Homes Division for finance to assist home-building has indicated the trend towards private ownership of homes. Yet, because of the use of labour and building materials for the construction of rental houses, there has been an enforced restriction of the building of houses for private ownership. That is another good reason why we should give urgent consideration to the termination of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
The honorable member for Werriwa said that we could and should terminate the agreement, and he referred to clause 16 (2.), which I shall read to the House in order to demonstrate the looseness of the document. Under the agreement, the Commonwealth “ is obliged to find unlimited finance for the States. Nowhere in it is there any suggestion that the Commonwealth has power to regulate the volume of finance demanded by the States, or that the States have any responsibility to regulate their demands upon the Commonwealth.
– That is quite true.
– For once the honorable member and I are in agreement. Clause 16 (2.) provides -
Either the Commonwealth or :i State may give to the other twelve calendar months’ notice in writing that this Agreement shall not as between the Commonwealth and that State apply to any housing project commenced after the expiration of a period of twelve calendar months after the date of the notice and. thereupon this Agreement shall not apply to any housing project commenced by that State after the expiration of the said period of twelve calendar months.
In other words, if the Commonwealth today gave notice to the States of its intention to terminate the agreement, the States could, with complete irresponsibility, notify any number of projects that they desired within the next twelve months and the Commonwealth would be committed to provide money for those projects.
– If they were commenced within the period of twelve months.
– Yes, and that is only a further indication of the looseness of the agreement, because, if a State merely sent a bulldozer on to a site to knock over a tree, it could claim legally to have commenced a project. How can we terminate the agreement? I say that we cannot safely do so by notification in accordance with clause 16 (2.), because the Commonwealth could be involved, by the actions of the States within the next twelve months, in a legal obligation for untold years to provide untold sums to finance the completion of projects commenced by the States. That is why I suggest that urgent consideration be given to this matter and that a conference of representatives of the States and the Commonwealth be called for that purpose.
I believe that we should have considerable difficulty in devising an arrangement that would be acceptable to both the States and the Commonwealth, because most of the State governments are socialist governments, and socialist governments believe in establishing a huge public service. Already we have a vast network of public service organizations known as the State housing commissions, which expend the money that the Commonwealth provides for housing. I believe that, if we sought to alter the agreement,- the States would agree only to an amendment that would permit of the continuation of these organizations. They would continue to supervise the building of houses, for private ownership or for rental, and this great army of public servants, which is leading to administrative inefficiency, would be perpetuated. However, there is ari alternative to the immediate termination of the agreement. This Government should appoint a royal commission to report upon the agreement. I believe that such a commission would expose such irresponsibility by the States and such ineffective administration as would confirm the report on the Zillmere project that the Prime Minister brought into this House.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. I submit that the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) is not entitled to refer to the matter that he has mentioned because, for the last year and two weeks, a question on that matter has remained on the notice-paper.
– I shall refer to the point of order with your permission, Mr. Speaker. My remark referred, not to the report to which reference is made on the notice-paper, but to an interim report that was brought into this House by the Prime Minister, who read it and made a statement on it.
– I say at once that L do not propose to allow a question that has been on the notice-paper for the length of time mentioned by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) to interfere with the freedom of honorable members in debate. The House is now called upon to allocate over £37,000,000 for a specific purpose, and honorable members are entitled to express their thoughts on that proposal.
– As I have said, the States have acted irresponsibly, and there is doubt whether the Commonwealth is obtaining value for its money. Paragraph 7 of the interim report on the Zillmere project stated -
That the Commission’s decision, reasonably based in principle, to allow the contractors to proceed with new construction has resulted in public controversy, in an unsatisfactory relationship between the Commission and some of its tenants, and in a justifiable doubt on the part of the Commonwealth at this stage whether it is getting a satisfactory result from its advances under the C.S.H.A. and its subsidy payments under the States Grants (Imported Houses) Act, 1950.
Honorable members should realize that the Commonwealth will lose over £500,000 in interest charges alone, because this money is advanced to the States at an interest rate of 3 per cent, whereas the Commonwealth is obliged to pay interest at the rate of 4£ per cent, in order to raise the funds. Incidentally, I point out to the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) that the rate of interest was determined, not by the Australian Government, but by the Australian Loan Council. If we are not obtaining a satisfactory return from our expenditure, the sooner the better it will be for us to appoint a royal commission to expose the failures of the agreement so that it can be terminated in order to save the Commonwealth from being required for many years to find vast sums for the development of slum areas.
Honorable members opposite want to have the agreement amended in order to allow the States to sell the houses. They have a very good reason for that policy, because it is a wellknown fact that members of the Labour party in the Queensland Parliament are anxious to get out from under so as to escape responsibility for the extravagance and inefficiency of the State’s housing projects.
– That is absolutely untrue.
– I shall enlighten the honorable member by quoting an informative statement on this subject. I have here a clipping from a responsible news- paper, the Sunday Mail, which is published in Brisbane. It published a report on the Queensland Government’s housing projects under these head-lines -
Labour Members Say Situation . . . “Is Hot and it’s Sticky.”
State seeks way out of pre-fab. “ mess “.
There is a clear indication that the State Government has made a mess of the housing scheme and that the money provided by the Commonwealth has been thrown away with complete irresponsibility. The Commonwealth should not be required to find unlimited sums for the States to waste on the construction of slum areas. This money would have been used to better purpose had it been diverted, through the Commonwealth Bank, to finance the construction of houses by private enterprise for private owners. This method has been recom; mended by the honorable member for Bennelong, and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his fine contribution to the debate. A passage of “interest from the report of the Brisbane Sunday Mail reads as follows: -
Recent developments in Queensland’s tragic pre-fabricated housing project threaten to bring the whole scheme down like a card castle. Wrangling between the State Housing Coinmission and pre-fab contractors has assumed national importance, because of possible damage to Australia’s reputation abroad.
I hope that the Government will give consideration to that matter when it is making an approach to the States in relation to the termination of the housing agreement, because that is the situation which has developed between the Queensland Government and the contractors who are building this £8,000,000 project in the Brisbane area. We have already discovered that 40 creditors - I refer to manufacturers and suppliers of building materials - are owed the sum of £150,164 by the firm of Le Corche Freres and Schroth. This company, as was suggested in the interim report which the Prime Minister read to the House, was placed in a most invidious position by the Queensland Government, which not only held great sums of retention money, but also became fanatical in its criticism of the method of construction employed by this firm at Zillmere after the exposure in this House of the failure there. The Queensland Government became so tough that it was forecast that the firm would become bankrupt under the terms of the contract. The firm has become bankrupt, and has left with the, Queensland Housing Commission responsibility for a great sum of money the amount of which that authority is loth to reveal to the court. Le Corche Freres and Schroth abandoned the project at Zillmere. That fact alone indicates that something has been wrong. At any rate, the creditors of Le Corche Freres and Schroth asked that materials and equipment to the ‘value of £150,164 which had not been paid for should be returned to them. The housing commission had taken over all the assets without an inventory or any consideration of whether Le Corche Freres and Schroth had any legal entitlement to the materials. The commission has refused to pay to the suppliers of the materials the moneys which were owing to Le Corche Freres and Schroth. The Building Industry Credit Bureau in Queensland has asked that the housing commission make available to the court, so that the contents may be perused, a contract signed with Le Coralie- Freres and Schroth, but the Queensland Government has refused, for a very good reason, to do so. The very good reason is that the suppliers of the materials might find in the contract a clause which would allow them ,to take legal proceedings against the commission for the return of their property, or payment in lieu thereof. This situation suggests that a cloakanddagger game is being played by the housing commission. Everything has not been done above-board. Everything is being cloaked. In the words of the press, “ A plywood screen has been drawn over the commission’s project “. That statement is perfectly true. This difficulty has arisen with the firm of Le Corche Freres and Schroth, but we also discover that the Italian firm of Pasotti is in a similar plight. The Brisbane Sunday Mail has stated, relative to that matter -
A representative of Pasotti, an Italian firm erecting 1,000 pre-fabs at Carina, has gone back to Italy to consult his principals on fi nance and other difficulties.
I shall now refer to the value of the houses which have been built by the Queensland Housing Commission. I had one of these dwellings valued by an independent valuator in Brisbane, and he con-, sidered that the market value would be between £1,400 and £1,600. Yet it has been estimated that the cost of building houses of this type will be approximately £3,500. That money is obtained from loans subscribed by the Australian people. If £3,500 is expended on a structure worth between £1,400 and £1,600, I can claim definitely that the money which the Commonwealth is providing under the housing agreement is being handled irresponsibly by the .States, and that this state of affairs should be terminated as quickly as possible. Let us consider some of the other contracts existent in Queensland. In the Serviceton area, 700 houses are being erected by sub-contractors. At Cooper’s Plains, 300 Dutch houses are being built, with an option of an additional 700 dwellings. I believe that some query has arisen about the option. I do not think that everything is quite as it should be there. At Carina, 100 prefabricated houses of Italian origin are to be built.
The whole housing situation in Australia requires close scrutiny and investigation, with a view to discovering whether there is really a housing shortage or whether, as the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) has suggested, there is a failure in the matter of the competent distribution of houses. This matter is important. The Commonwealth Statistician has revealed that whereas previously there were a little more than four persons to a house, to-day there are only 3.07 persons to a house. In addition, the findings of a gallup poll recently indicate that fewer people are living in houses at the present time than previously. I cannot state definitely the extent of the housing shortage, and the honorable member for Banks, who has said that Australia requires 420,000 houses to make up the leeway, is in no better position to estimate it than I am. I have referred this matter to tho most competent authority available to us in an endeavour to discover the housing shortage, and I have been informed that it is impossible to give an estimate of the position to-day. Evidently, the honorable member for Banks plucked a figure out of the air in a completely irresponsible manner when he said that Australia required an additional 420,000 dwellings to overcome the shortage. I say positively that the honorable gentleman just does not know. I asked the competent authority the following question : -
Whatis the estimated shortage of houses to-day?
The reply was as follows: -
The Census of June, 1947, indicated that about 100,000 dwellings would have been needed to eliminate home sharing. Perhaps another 50,000 would have been required to rehouse families living in boardinghouses, rooms and other unsatisfactory accommodation. The greatly increased house building rate since thenhas reduced this maximum backlog of 150,000 houses, but it is impossible to say what the shortage is to-day. In our opinion, however, current demand includes only a small component from this source.
Since 1947 when the estimated shortage was 150,000 houses, no fewer than 338,075 dwellings have been built. I hope that the Government will investigate the whole situation. This Parliament should not continue to raise loan moneys, or appropriate money for the States for the construction of houses, until the true position has been ascertained. Opposition members admit that it is preferable to provide money with a view to enabling persons to purchase their homes than to finance the construction of State-owned homes. We should put the Opposition to the test on this matter.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– I have listened with great interest to the speeches of Government supporters on this bill, particularly those of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). I wholeheartedly support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). Honorable members opposite may not be aware that the Queensland Government has been urging this Government during the last twelve months to summon a conference of the interested bodies to reconsider the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement with a view to amending it so that many more people will have the opportunity to purchase their homes. The Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) and the honorable member for Bennelong have endeavoured to make the people believe that when Labour governments are in office, very few people are ableto purchase their homes under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. The Minister and the honorable member for Bennelong seemed to have the Queensland Government particularly in mind when they made those statements. The Minister produced figures which showed that only 314 houses built in Queensland under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement had been purchased since the making of the agreement in 1945. Such a claim is completely untrue. I received to-day an official statement which gives the exact position.
For many years, Queensland has been recognized as the State that has made it possible for the workers to own their homes. More workers own their homes in Queensland in proportion to the population, than in any other State. The explanation is that Queensland Labour governments built and sold homes to the workers from 1910 until the making of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement in 1945. Approximately 26,000 dwellings were built by Queensland governments in that period of 35 years, and 24,000 of them have been paid off. The remaining 2,000 are being paid off by weekly instalments. I do not know the source from which the Minister obtained his figure. He may have been indulging in guess-work, or he may have been merely trying to mislead the House and the people.
The honorable member for Bennelong claimed that 6.6 per cent. of the houses built under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement had been sold to the people. That statement is altogether wrong. I have before me an official statement which I received to-day from the Queensland Housing Commission-
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Hayley’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 9th September (vide page 90), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.-Soldier settlement is of the utmost importance, not only because there is an obligation on the people of this country to redeem their promises to those who fought for them, but also because no general scheme of land settlement can be undertaken until soldier- settlement has been completed. A general scheme of land settlement in this country is essential, because unless we increase our production of food we shall be unable to feed an increasing Australian population, even without making any contribution to the feeding of a hungry world, although that is an obligation that we should seek to fulfil. Food production is the means by which we live. It is the basis of our standard of living. A diminishing food production means a diminishing standard of living. Therefore, it is of the utmost seriousness that, since 1939, the number of farms in this country has diminished by 10,000 and the area of land under cultivation has become less. The area of land under cultivation has become less, despite the fact that since 1939 the population of Australia has increased by over 1,500,000 people, despite our soldier settlement schemes, despite every inducement and incentive held out to the primary producer to increase his production, and despite the fact that since 1939 the return from primary production in this country has increased by from 1,200 per cent, to 1,600 per cent. The fewer rural producers on the land now obtain from twelve to sixteen times as much for their products .as they did in 1939. Therefore, it cannot be said that poor prices are forcing primary producers off the land.
It is not true to say either that farmers are fleeing from arduous conditions on the land and that there are no people in this country willing or capable to take their places. Since the last world war, over 36,000 ex-servicemen have applied for land and have been classified as eligible for primary production. Many of them were specially trained by the Government. Those who were not trained were guaranteed by government authorities as being qualified for positions on the land. But of those 36,000 men, fewer than 9,000 have received farms, although eight years have elapsed since the end of the war. In New South Wales, of the 1S,938 applicants eligible and qualified to go upon the land, 2,002 have received farms. In Victoria, 10,792 men applied for farms; and 1,847 have secured them. In Queensland, 1,739 men applied for farms, and 442 have secured them. In South Australia, 536 of the 2,7.96 applicants have obtained farms. In Western Australia, 836 of the 1,593 applicants have secured farms. In Tasmania, there were 232 applicants, and 136 of them have obtained farms. In that State there are also 440 applicants who have not yet been classified as eligible for primary production. In Victoria, 2,259 men have obtained single-unit farms, but the scheme under which single-unit farms were allotted no longer operates.
In addition to the ex-servicemen who desire to go upon the land, there are vast numbers of civilians who desire to do so. In Victoria, over 20,000 civilians are willing and eager to go on the land. It would ‘ not be an understatement to say that throughout Australia there are, in addition to ex-servicemen, over 100,000 people who are willing and eager to go on the land but have no opportunity to secure farms. Yet, despite those facts, there are people who say that we must bring immigrants to this country in order to solve our rural problem. There are others, including members of the Government parties, who maintain that the solution of our food production problem is to destroy or restrict secondary industries and, by that means, to force men and resources into the development of the land. In 1951, the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) enunciated that policy in his budget speech. Immediately afterwards, the policy was put into operation. The result was that 100,000 people employed in secondary industries were put out of work, but not one of them secured a farm. The reason why many ex-servicemen and other people in the community who desire to obtain farms cannot get them is that the price of land is too high.
– Rubbish !
– The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) says “ Rubbish ! “ Other members of the Government parties concur in that interjection. Recently I obtained some figures from the Government which showed the present cost of soldier settlement. The cost of settling 863 exservicemen on the land in Western Australia was approximately £15,000,000..
– The honorable member should get his figures right.
– I have got them right. They were supplied by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) less than a month ago, and they are recorded in Hansard. In Western Australia, 863 persons were put on the land at a cost of £15,000,000, or about £17,000 a settler. In South Australia, 536 persons were put on the land at a cost of £10,000,000, or about £18,000 a settler. In Tasmania, 136 settlers were put on the land at a cost of £5,000,000, or about £30,000 a settler. The fact that those figures are conservative is revealed by a footnote to the answer that the Minister for the Interior supplied to my question. The footnote is to the effect that we cannot discover the cost of settling ex-servicemen on the land by dividing the number of men settled into the cost of settlement because there is still some developmental work to be carried out at the expense of the Government. So, in reality, probably the cost of settling a man on the land is considerably greater than the figures I have cited.
We must bear in mind that exservicemen have been settled on the land under the most advantageous circumstances as far as the price of land is concerned. Many of the settlers were allotted land at a time when land sales control operated and’ land was obtainable much more cheaply than to-day. In one State, 342 blocks in one district were purchased under land sales control. That State, like other States that operate under the agreement made between the Commonwealth and the States, had to decide what the economic value of the land was. The economic value is determined by taking the prices of primary products over a period of years and striking an average. The price of land to the settler is based on the economic value, and the difference between that figure and the purchase price is met by the State concerned and the Commonwealth. The purchase price of the 342 allotments , to which I have referred was £117,000 more than the economic value. That is approximately £300 in the case of each block. Since this Government discarded land sales control, 180 blocks have been purchased in the same district. The difference between the economic value of the blocks and the price paid for them was £870,000, or approximately £5,000 a block. I have in my possession a list of blocks purchased recently by a State government. In every case, the economic value is £5,000 or more greater than the purchase price.
Under those circumstances, how is it possible to make a success of soldier settlement? I have already said that the reason why soldier settlement has not been successful is that the price of land that is readily productive is too high. I have shown that the cost of settling an ex-serviceman on the land is £30,000 in Tasmania, about £18,000 in South Australia, and about £17,000 in Western Australia. The cost is becoming greater as time goes on. Yet, when the Minister for the Interior introduced the measure that is now being debated, he said -
This bill provides for the raising of loan moneys amounting to £7,000,000 to finance advances to States for war service land settlement. This money will be advanced under approved conditions to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania to be used by those States for the acquisition, development and improvement of land for subdivision and allotment to classified exservicemen, and for providing those exservicemen with working capital and finance for purchasing structural improvements, stock, plant and equipment.
Therefore, £7,000,000 will be raised and allocated to the States for war service land settlement, but the whole matter of the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land has been peremptorily dismissed in a few words by the Minister. No matter that could possibly come before this House is of more importance to the future of the people than is the settlement of our citizens upon the land. But £7,000,000 will not do much more than pay the difference between the economic price and the purchase price of about 1,000 allotments of land. However, the money will not be raised solely to purchase land; it will be raised to enable the States to acquire land, subdivide it, finance structural improvements and buy plant, stock and equipment. Surely honorable members will realize that £7,000,000 will not do more than settle about an additional 500 ex-servicemen upon the land; It is eight years since the end of the last world war, and of the 36,000 exservicemen who have applied to be settled on the land, less than 9,000 have been so settled. Therefore, 27,000 ex-servicemen are still waiting to be placed on the land and they must be settled before this country can embark on the great general scheme of land settlement that is so essential to our future development.
At the present rate of progress it will take from 27 to 54 years to settle on the land all the ex-servicemen of the last world war. That being so, when will the qualified ex-servicemen of the Korean war be settled on the land? They will have to wait in the queue for any time up to 50 years. We might also ask when the Government will settle the 100,000 civilians who are at present waiting’ to become primary producers, and when will it settle the vast number of immigrants who must be settled on the land if we are to increase our population and feed that increase. The settlement of all those people is an utter impossibility under the existing scheme of land settlement, and therefore we must devise new schemes. What to do about land-hungry people who are living in close proximity to land that is practically unused is not a new problem, nor is it confined to this country. In the early days of the Communist revolution in Russia the revolutionaries exploited that situation. It was also exploited in all the Russian satellite States, and it is being exploited to-day in China. Down through the years, in every age and in every country, turmoil and revolution have resulted from landhungry people being denied access to the land.
Now I desire to make some practical suggestions about this matter. Land settlement has been investigated time after time because it is a matter that has concerned governments down through the ages. France was forced to smash up large estates and to divide the land among the people by inheritance laws, so that those capable of using it could do SO and it was no longer allowed to lie idle. Quite recently America was forced to introduce anti-land speculation legislation and under that legislation vast numbers of people have been settled on the land and have carried out intense cultivation. In other countries resumption laws and land taxes have been used to subdivide large areas of land, and to increase food production and the numbers of the farming population. Because land settlement is of outstanding importance in our age and generation, and because our whole future as a nation depends on the manner in which we settle our people, the Minister for the Interior should appoint a committee on land settlement, and take all possible action to co-ordinate the activities of the States so that they will act in such a way as to enable the maximum number of ex-servicemen to be settled as quickly as possible.
I know that the acquisition of land is a matter for the States. They purchase the land and carry out the scheme of land settlement, but this Government provides the money; as it pays the piper, I suggest that it is entitled to call the tune. It is entitled to lay down certain conditions under which money will be made available so that ex-servicemen can be properly settled upon the land with a reasonable chance of success. This bill provides for the raising of money that will ultimately be advanced to the States on approved conditions. We have to determine what those conditions will be, and should accept our responsibility in that regard. This is a matter that transcends party political issues altogether. It is a matter of outstanding and urgent importance, and therefore we should set up a committee to work out means to promote the settlement of exservicemen on the land, and the settlement of others who desire to go on the land.
It is obvious to anybody who has travelled in this country that readily cultivable land is available. In one part of Victoria there are 700,000 acres of the most fertile land in Australia, and 600,000 acres of that land could be made available to ex-servicemen. They could be settled upon it, and it would almost immediately become productive. After 600,000 acres bad been taken the present land-holders would be left with sufficient land to return them not merely a reasonable living, but a very good living. They would be able to produce as much from the land that would be left to them under that scheme as they send to the market to-day. About 1,200 ex-servicemen could be settled on those 600,000 acres. What is true of that small part of Victoria is true also of other areas of the Commonwealth. In every State there is land of that description available. There is plenty of land that is not being used to its full capacity at present, and no man has an inalienable right to keep out of production land that is essential, not merely to the welfare of others but to their very existence. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure that the land shall produce food, through the settlement of those who served their country so well in the days of war.
Not only should ex-servicemen be settled on the land but there should also be a vast scheme of civilian settlement. If we are to increase our population, more people must enter the field of food production, and there is no better way to start than to settle ex-servicemen on the land. Unfortunately the Minister for the Interior is not present in the House to-night. I know that he has a wellearned renown, but he could add lustre to it. He has a reputation for courageous patriotism, but he could give an added proof of his patriotism by indicating his willingness to grapple with the land-holders whose rapacity prevents the settlement of ex-servicemen, increases the danger to Australia’s survival as a nation, and keeps out of production land that is essential to the progress and development of this country.
.- I believe that all honorable members of this House will agree with the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) that land settlement, particularly the settlement of ex-servicemen, is very desirable. I agree that any land that is not being fully worked should be brought into the greatest production at the earliest possible moment, but the difficulty is to discover- a method by which that may be achieved. In some cases ex-servicemen have increased the production of the land upon which they have been settled. On an earlier occasion I referred to an estate in my electorate of 15,000 acres which had been worked by one man and a boy who ran a few wethers on it. It was said that a neighbour could sow 1,000 acres of wheat on it, strip the crop and take it away without any one being the wiser. The estate was resumed for war service land settlement purposes and there has since been a great increase in production from it. I remind the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) that the State governments have power to resume land which they believe is not being fully and economically utilized. If there is land in that category in any State the fault lies with the Premier of the State. I discussed this matter with the Premier of South Australia some time ago in connexion with the development of the south-eastern part of that State. Honorable members who are familiar with the south-eastern area of South Australia know that it probably contains more improved land than does any other single area in the Commonwealth. In explanation of that fact, the Premier said to me, “ I got the best results by whispering around the district that I intended to resume any land that was not fully utilized. In one year the quantity of superphosphate used in the area was trebled “. It is of no use to regard war service land’ settlement as an end in itself. I could show honorable members areas where ex-servicemen have been settled which are producing less to-day than they were in the old days when the land was in the hands of its former owners. By and large, we agree that the scheme is a very good one. We are easier to do everything we can to assure its success. How can its success be assured? Finance is the chief obstacle to the progress of the scheme. I am glad to see that in this bill the Government has earmarked £7,000,000 this year and that it also proposes to make available approximately £1,591,000 of repayment money, making a total of approximated £8,600,000 -for the settlement of 3,500 applicants in the three agent States. Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. By comparison with the efforts of the agent States, the effort of New South Wales is absolutely pitiful. In that State, 17,000 applications for blocks are still unsatisfied. In the present financial year the New South Wales Government proposes to expend £2,’500,000 to settle 17,000 ex-servicemen on the land, compared with a proposed expenditure by the agent States of approximately £8,600,000 to settle 3,500 ex-servicemen. The story does not end there. In New South Wales, repayments received from settlers amount to approximately £1,300,000, so that the new money to be provided by the Government pf that State amounts to less than £1,250,000.
– How many exservicemen has the New South Wales Government settled on the land?
– About 2,000 so far. By far the best contribution to the scheme made by the three principal States has been made by Victoria, which lias expended £32,000,000 from loan funds, compared with a total expenditure by New South Wales of approximately £23,000,000.
This Government is criticized on the ground that it makes available to the State insufficient loan allocations for war service land settlement purposes. Honorable members will realize that the Commonwealth cannot make direct payments to the States for this purpose and that it can only do its utmost to ensure that all available money shall be provided. The manner in which the money is expended by the States is a matter for the States themselves. This Government has supplemented the loan funds available to the States during the last two years - in 1951-52 bv an amount of £153,000,000, and in 1952-53, by an amount of £135,000,000. This year an additional amount of £95,000,000 is to be made available. I do not want to weary honorable members by quoting the percentages of allocations to the States which have been actually used by them for war service land settlement purposes. All honorable members” know that they have been progressively reduced. In New South Wales the percentage dropped from a maximum of 27 per cent, in the highest year - 1948-49 - to 2.8 per cent, last year. All of us desire to see the scheme placed on a very much better footing. The Commonwealth has waived its right to apply to its own purposes 20 per cent, of all loan moneys raised. It has passed on its share to the States and is doing everything it can do to assist them to meet their obligations.
I propose to discuss the scheme as it operates in my own State because I am more familiar with the position there than in the other States. While we all can agree that New South Wales has achieved remarkable results in the operation of the scheme, they are not as good as we hoped they would be or, indeed, as they should have been. Already large numbers of ex-servicemen have been settled on the land, but the conditions of settlement could, have been made better. For instance, far too many certificates have been issued. The conditions under which certificates were issued were too easy. It must be borne in mind that this is a war service land settlement scheme and not a closer settlement scheme. If an opportunity to settle on the land is to be regarded as a reward for services rendered to the country during the war, let us ensure that those who actually served in the Forces during the war arc given first preference. In New South Wales men who were called up and served only a few months in Australia possess the same right to ballot for a block as does the man who volunteered early in the war and spent a long time overseas fighting for his country. I know of many men who did not get beyond Queensland who are already settled on the land under the scheme while many excellent soldiers who did their bit on the battlefield are still waiting to be settled, and apparently will wait in vain. Victoria has adopted a points system under which those who served abroad are granted points according to their length, of service. They also obtain additional points if they have had experience on the land. Many men in New South Wales have obtained certificates notwithstanding the fact that they have little or no knowledge of the land. Surely it would ha ve been better to issue a smaller number of certificates and make certain that those most likely to make good on the land have an opportunity to secure blocks. In New South Wales the scheme has broken down because the Government of that State has had constant legal arguments with landholders and also because it has decided to resume land on the basis of 1942 values, plus 15 per cent. if the owner is prepared to go quietly.
– That is all it should pay.
Mr.FAIRBAIRN- That observation by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) is in line with suggestions made recently by certain former senior Ministers of the previous Labour administration that a capital levy should be imposed on the people. His view is not shared by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), who has said that the difference between the economic value of a property and the price paid for it should be borne by Consolidated Revenue. A government which resumes anything has no excuse for paying less for it than the owner could obtain for it if he sold it on the local market. If it is desired that the price paid for land should be its economic value theloss should be spread over all the taxpayers of the country and should not be borne by a few unfortunate people. In New South Wales, losses incurred by land-holders arising out of the resumption policy of the New South Wales Government have amounted, possibly, to tens of millions of pounds. These legal battles with land-holders are still going on.
– If I knew as little about war service land settlement as does the honorable member for Watson, I should certainly not interject while another honorable member was speaking.
– The honorable member should sit down now.
Mr.FAIRBAIRN.- Another problem in New South Wales arises from the number of proclamations that have been issued covering land proposed to be resumed for war service land settlement purposes. Proclamations still in force cover more than 4,000,000 acres of land. As the present rate of resumption, sixteen or twenty years will probably elapse before all the land has been resumed. If the proclamations were lifted much of that land could be subdivided and sold. Opposition members have expressed their eagerness to see all the larger estates broken up. The best way to achieve that objective in New South Wales is to lift a great many of the existing proclamations, and allow the owners of the land to sell their properties on the market. In many instances the land would be sold to ex-servicemen. The State governments say, in effect, “ We cannot afford to purchase the land ourselves and we will make jolly certain that nobody else does “.
I have spoken on legislation of this kind on every occasion on which it has been brought before the House during the last four years. I hope thatmy views will be taken into consideration by Ministers of this Government and of the State governments. The war service land settlement scheme is a magnificent scheme, but it must be implemented with due regard to the need to increase primary production. We must settle more people on the land. The Government is making untiring efforts to see that that is done.
.- The honorable member forFarrar (Mr. Fairbairn) made a very weak defence of the Government when he said that responsibility for war service land settlement rests upon the State governments because they have power to resume any land. About eight years ago, before the great bulk of our ex-servicemen returned from the war, the then Labour Government introduced a bill which was designed to facilitate the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land under conditions vastly different from those that prevailed after World War I. All honorable members then recalled the bitter experiences of those who were settled on the land after the end of World War I. In framing the legislation the Labour Government took great pains to avoid the mistakes of the past. It provided that any losses incurred on the scheme should be immediately met by the respective governments and not, as happened after the first war, by the unfortunate ex-servicemen. Under the legislation losses were to be shared equally by the Commonwealth and by the State government concerned. During the last three years this Government has evaded its moral responsibilities to ex-servicemen. These men did not go away as the citizens of any particular State. They left this country to fight as Australians, and this Parliament made certain promises to them. I have always maintained that rehabilitation of exservicemen is a definite Commonwealth responsibility. Wow, however, it is argued that because the power to resume estates that are to be made available for war service land settlement belongs to the States alone, the States should carry the burden of providing the capital cost. The proposed acquisition by the New South Wales Government of estates at the 1942 values was challenged in 1949 by a landowner. Judgment was given that the States had the power to resume land. The judgment also pointed out that the Commonwealth had no power to resume land except on just and reasonable terms. The lack of that power is being used by this Government as an excuse to evade its obligations. It can withhold aid to a State on the ground that it has not acquired the land in question at a just price.
The Commonwealth has a responsibility for the settlement of ex-servicemen that is at least equal to that of the States, if not greater. Yet this Government is restricting loan moneys that are to bc used for that purpose. Honorable members opposite ask why the State governments do not use more of the loan moneys available to them for the purposes of land settlement instead of using it for other purposes. I know that at one time a Country party Premier of Victoria had the alternative of restricting expenditure on capital works, the police force, roads and government instrumentalities, including the irigation works, or of making more money available for war service land settlement. If he had devoted more of the available loan moneys to settlement he would have had to restrict big public works, in which hundreds of ex-servicemen were employed, and would have thrown these men out of work. That is no sound way in which to conduct a land settlement programme. The whole thing boils down to the fact that this Government, which holds the purse strings, can evade its responsibilities in relation to war service land settlement by refusing to co-operate with the States in regard to settlement on land that it may choose to consider was not acquired at a just price. It can restrict loan moneys to the States and can throw the whole burden of financing war service land settlement on them. The States have not available to them the great revenue resources that are available to the Commonwealth. They have to rely on Commonwealth hand-outs and such revenue as they can raise by taxes in fields into which the Commonwealth does, not enter. Yet this Government is leaving ‘ to them the burden of repatriating exservicemen on its behalf. If the States went ahead and found the money for war service land settlement, and a slump in land values of 25 per cent, or more occurred, they would be left in a serious position. No State could undertake such a task.
I agree with previous speakers that the States have done a far better and more economical job of settling exservicemen on the land than the Commonwealth has done. I have some figures here that were supplied by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), which are nothing short of amazing when considered in conjunction with the fact that the Australian Government has all the resources of the nation behind it. A total of 4,621 applicants have been classified as eligible and suitable for settlement and out of those the Commonwealth has settled 1,535, leaving 3,086 still to be settled. After eight years! The cost of the purchase of land, development and improvement, and advances to settlers in the agent States has been £29,421,000. Victoria settled approximately 2,000 settlers at a cost of about £23,000,000 so it achieved at a lower cost more than did the Commonwealth.
It would be far better if the Commonwealth were merely to provide the capital cost to the States and otherwise stay out of the business altogether. It could, of course, have control of the money to see that it was properly expended, but otherwise the work should be left to the’ States, which can do a better and cheaper job. In Western Australia, acquisition of land out of Commonwealth funds has cost £3,262,000, development and improvement £6,789,000 and advances to settlers £4,874,000. In South Australia, acquisition of land has been cheap, having cost £1,917,000. It may be that the land acquired in that State is in remote areas to which the State will have to build roads, or is distant from railways. The cost of development and improvement in South Australia was £6,606,000, and advances to settlers cost £1,280,000. The figures in Tasmania are amazing. Acquisition of land cost £958,000, development and improvement £3,014,000 and advances to settlers £721,000. Tasmania has settled 136 settlers under the war service land settlement scheme. So there is about 100 per cent, difference in the figures for the principal States and the agent States. The average cost a block in. Victoria as r.t the 31st December last was £11,753. The average cost a block in the agent States was about £18,000. “We must try to judge between the responsibility and sincerity of the Commonwealth and the States. Victoria was sincere, and the Federal Labour Government which introduced this scheme was sincere, but I have doubts about the sincerity of the present Government. Some years ago a Victorian Labour government gave settlers the benefit of a rate of interest of 2 per cent., but since that time the Commonwealth bond rate of interest has risen to ii per cent., and the general rate of interest has followed it. It would not be possible to have some land , settlers paying only 2 per cent.’ interest while others were paying double, that rate, because the State would have to bear the burden caused by the different rates of interest. No State could do so, any . more than the States could dp it after World War I. In fact, the debt after World War I. had to be written off by the nation after the settlers had been ruined. I think everybody will agree that if this Government were sincere about settling ex-servicemen on the land it would do more financially than it proposes to do. The proposed amount of £7,000,000 will settle only about 400 men in two years. What a great result to be achieved by this great Commonwealth - 200 settlers a year. The fact is that the Government does not want these men to be settled because in Victoria, at any rate, and probably in the other States, settlement of them would mean ‘the acquisition of huge properties now owned by wealthy land-owners. One station in Victoria consists of 20,000 acres. In view of modern scientific advances there is no justification for such a. great area of land to be held by one owner. Science has made it possible for a quarter of that land to produce as much as could be produced by the whole of it 30 years ago. I have figures that show that the production on big estates has been trebled after they ‘have been subdivided. The result is not only increased production, but also the settlement of young men on the land and an increase of population, because young settlers will marry and rear families. If the Commonwealth is unable to finance land settlement on a big scale there is something radically wrong. The Labour Government managed to do great things during the war in that direction, even though there was a lack of men and equipment, but in peace-time this Government is .unable to engage in a worthwhile scheme of land settlement. Naturally, as the years pass, men who have been waiting to be settled on the land will relinquish their intention and take up other activities in the cities. Our chance to populate the outback areas will have gone, and we shall have lost the opportunity to increase production. In Victoria in the last year war service land settlement has practically ceased. A newspaper report states that the chairman of the Soldier Settlement Commission in Victoria. Mr. H. L. Simpson, had said that the commission wanted to get new settlers into occupation and production as early as possible. It adds -
Lack of finance, however, had -
Forced the Commission to hold blocks from successful applicants;
Steady up progress and other improvements;
Reduce expenditure on roads; and to
Ease on house building and shedding contracts.
This great’ Commonwealth has the necessary men and the necessary land, but the Government will not make available the money to complete this scheme. Yet we are talking about bringing more immigrants to this country. I know plenty of young lads who want to get on to the land and work hard, but the opportunity to do so is denied to them. That is why I condemn the Government. Land settlement has been contracted in the last three years. What is the reason? Xt is of no use to say that it is lack of money, because the Government takes no financial risk by making money available to put men on the land. The land is an asset, and when men are put on to it to work, they improve the value of that asset. They have to pay interest on the loans made to them, and they will work hard and produce more in order to clear themselves of debt. The Commonwealth’s outlay will be returned in the form of interest payments, capital repayments, increased primary production and increased tax revenue. The reason why this Government will not put this great scheme into complete operation is that it has yielded’ to the pressure of great landowners. As I have said, there is no valid excuse for great holdings of land. If we do not populate our sparsely populated areas then perhaps some other nation will decide to do so. I do not know why land-owners wish to hold on greedily to great areas that they cannot work to the full but which would support probably 20 or 30 familes. Perhaps they are imbued with the old feudal idea of Owning all the land that they can see from their doorsteps. At any rate, they refuse to sell at any price. Therefore, we should find ways and means of resuming many of these large areas, at a just price, of course. How shall we determine- a just price? Whatever method we employ, the prices charged to settlers must not be beyond their capacity to repay. This Government must bear a share of any loss incurred in such transactions. Neither the States nor the settlers can shoulder all the costs. The States have not enough loan money with which to acquire land for the settlement of ex-servicemen and, if this Government alone undertakes the task of acquiring the land, it will have to take the full financial responsibility. The Minister for the Interior knows that there will be no land settlement of exservicemen if the Australian Government has to bear the entire responsibility, and that the State governments cannot afford the enormous cost of conducting settlement without help. Therefore, unless the Commonwealth and the States co-operate, war service land settlement must come to an end. The nation made great promises to its “servicemen during the war, but appa rently those promises are to be dishonoured like the promises that were made to us when we- served in World War I. Our promised rewards never materialized, and eventually we were regarded as a nuisance when our demands threatened to affect the interests of those who had made the promises.
This measure represents the complete repudiation of a solemn promise that was given to our servicemen by the nation. That promise, if carried into effect, would benefit the nation. However, this Government apparently wants to send exservicemen out to the scrub, as returned soldiers of World War I. were sent to the Mallee in Victoria many years ago. Yet large and fertile areas are available for subdivision. Some of these great holdings have been resumed already, fortunately, because the Labour Government in Victoria did magnificent work between 1945 and 1947. The nien who were settled on those subdivisions will do well and the State will prosper, which will be of advantage to the entire nation because the States are the nation. To think only in terms of individual States is wrong. After all, this is a National Parliament representative of all the States. The prosperity of any State must reflect the prosperity of the nation as a whole. The Government and its supporters know very well that they have an obligation to honour the promises that were made to our servicemen. Therefore, they must find a means of financing this vital national work of land settlement. Unless those promises are honoured, we shall find that the task of defending Australia will become more and more difficult. Many immigrants are coming to Australia, and new farms are needed. We must increase primary production if we are to feed our growing population and promote national prosperity. The Government has appointed a committee of its supporters to study primary production and find methods of increasing our output, but there is only one way to increase production. We must have more farmers on the land, and young men at that. They will give lis all the production that we need. The obligation rests squarely upon this Government to honour its promises to ex-servicemen ai, d to provide finance for the land settlement scheme, instead of leaving the job to the States. Apparently it fears that land prices will fall in the future and that, in that event, it will he called upon to hear the cost. Therefore, it has refused to commit itself and has said that the States must accept full responsibility for war service land settlement. I condemn it roundly for its repudiation of its promises to Australia’s fighting men.
.- Obviously, I do not want to devote my time to an analysis of the remarks of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod). Nevertheless, one or two of the statements that he made could not be overlooked by anybody who has any knowledge’ of this subject. First, he criticized the agreements under which the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales operate their war service land settlement schemes. I must, point out to him that the basis of land settlement in those States was selected by the Labour governments of those States in consultation with the then Labour government of the Commonwealth. I well remember that the honorable member for Wannon in 1945 defended the agreements between the Commonwealth and New South Wales and Queensland and assured the House that they would work out satisfactorily from the point of view of the contracting States. It is futile for him to criticize the Commonwealth at this stage for the way the agreements have worked, because he himself held them up to us as models of what such agreements ought to be.
The main theme of the honorable gentleman’s speech, which is the usual theme of all speeches made by honorable members opposite on the subject of war service land settlement, was that large estates ought to be cut up and made available to ex-servicemen. Well, many Australians who are eager to settle on the land would regard the honorable member as the holder of a large estate that would be suitable for closer settlement ! He and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), from whom, no doubt, we shall hear later in this debate, because it has become more or less traditional for certain honorable members on both, sides of the House to engage in these discussions, consistently urge the subdivision of large land holdings. They see all squatters as the owners of pro perties that ought to be resumed for closer settlement. Others see the honorable member for Wannon, for example, in a similar light. I recall that, in -a previous debate on this subject, certain honorable members who themselves were soldier settlers were cited as property owners whose holdings should now be cut up and made available for others who wish to settle on the land. Before we go any further, we should consider where this process should stop. The mere fact that a person owns certain large holdings is no reason for taking his land from him.
The trouble with the war service land settlement scheme, from my point of view, is not so much that the present Government has departed from the policy laid down by the former Labour Government as that it has followed all too closely in the footsteps of that Government. Whatever the result of war service land settlement may be, the fact remains that the agreements with the States were laid down primarily by the Labour Government and have proceeded very much on the same lines since this Government took office. The rate of settlement also has remained very much the same. That is my main point of criticism. Despite the urgent need and unlimited opportunity for closer settlement, particularly ex-service settlement, there has been little variation of the programme that was laid down five or six years ago with a total lack of imagination. It is very unpleasant to criticize a government that one normally supports, particularly when that government has been subjected to an attack on purely party political lines. I am sorry that the two members of the Opposition who have spoken in this debate have attacked the Government, because it is fair to say that at no stage, either in government or in opposition, has the Labour party dealt with war service land settlement as an objective in itself. Always its attitude has been influenced by the views of the Minister who was first in charge of the scheme, Mr. Dedman, who made it perfectly plain in this House that he regarded settlement, not so much as the fulfilment of an obligation or a method of placing more men upon the land as independent farmers, as a means of takinglan (1 from certain freeholders and giving it to others who would become tenants of the Government and be answerable to the Government for anything that they did.
This is the first point upon which one might reasonably question the sincerity of the Labour party on this issue. It has always regarded war service land settlement as a political issue. The settlement scheme fits in well with its political beliefs. As Mr. Dedman said in this House on one occasion, as I remember, the Labour Government did not intend to establish another race of capitalists in this land. Mr. Dedman, of course, again proposes to contest the electorate of Corio, but, as every one knows, he has very little hope of winning the seat. At any rate, the Labour party has never deviated from the point of view that he expressed. Therefore, I say that all the talk that we hear from the Opposition side of the House on this subject is of doubtful sincerity. The war service land settlement project fits in very neatly with the Opposition’s view that the Go.vernment ought to control the means of production. Let’ everybody remember that the former Labour Government was persuaded only with great difficulty to give ex-service settlers freehold rights over their land. For some years, under the agreements to which the Labour Government was a party, ex-servicemen who applied for blocks of land were offered only what amounted to tenant rights. They were placed on blocks as tenants without hope of owning the land at any time.
The first point to be remembered when we consider this subject, in my opinion, is that the basis of war service land settlement is our obligation to honour promises that were made to our servicemen during the war. The welfare of the country, the need for increased production, and other such issues should not enter into consideration in the first instance. The fact is that members and supporters of this Government and many honorable members opposite made solemn promises to sailors, soldiers and airmen that, if they served their country in a theatre of war, survived the conflict, and were capable of running a farm, land would be made available to them after the war had ended. That is the first basis upon which we must consider this problem. Looked at in that light, the performance of any government since the war ended cannot be considered to be particularly impressive. I am glad to hear that honorable members opposite at least lack the temerity to contradict that assertion. This Government, I repeat, has continued the scheme much as the Labour Government left it. Whether the promises made by the leaders of all political parties during the war were wise or not is of no consequence. The fact is that they were made. Yet only a few thousand ex-servicemen have been settled on the land. Many are waiting to be settled, and many others have sickened of waiting and have been forced by circumstances, as the honorable member for Wannon rightly pointed out, to surrender all hope of being settled, and have entered other occupations. This is the situation eight years after’ the end of the war. It can scarcely be a matter of pride to any of us that, year after year, we have stood by in the knowledge that this situation has existed without insisting that something be done to rectify it.
I come now to another matter, and not without some heat. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), the honorable member for Wannon, other honorable members and I have pointed out, year after year, not only to this Government, but also to other governments, the obligation to honour promises, and the desperate need to do so. Yet, despite whatever may be “said here, and the somewhat glib assurances of successive Ministers on the matter, the fact remains that this situation persists, and so one is almost reduced to asking oneself whether there is any use in honorable members rising in their places and talking on this subject at all. If time permits, I shall make further reference to this matter.
The problem of the land settlement of ex-servicemen is by no means new in Australia. It has engaged the attention of governments since the earliest times. In the first instance, governors from England made land available to men who had served with some distinction in the armed forces of those days, either on the land in charge of our earliest settlers, or in bringing fleets to this country. There was always a deliberate attempt to encourage men who had served their country to take up land. For my part, I find that wholly commendable because there can be no greater idea or ideal than that those who serve their country are entitled to hold a block of it in their own possession, and, for the want of a better word, for their own profit.
As time passed, State legislatures made provision for free selectors, and the Parliament of the Commonwealth introduced legislation after . World War I. and World War II. to provide for the settlement of exservicemen on the land. Unfortunately, all the schemes in the past have met with only a moderate measure of success. It is unfortunately true that the rural population - the number of persons . engaged in primary production - has not increased very greatly over the last 50 years. One. of the primary reasons for that fact is that the prices which the products of the land, such as wheat and wool, have commanded in the markets of the world, and particularly in our home market, have not been satisfactory. Until recent years our products were in competition with the commodities of South America, North America, South Africa and New Zealand, and the world market had a relatively poor, or limited, power to pay for them. The position has entirely altered now, for a number of reasons, one of which is that our own home market has greatly increased. Indeed, without getting gloomy on this subject, I cannot help but point out that since World War II., there has been an almost constant shortage of one primary product o? another in Australia. There is hardly ever a time when the Australian community is not short of eggs, potatoes, onions, milk or bacon. Had it not been for an extraordinary run of good seasons, Ave should have difficulty to-day even to supply such an elementary service as this Government’s scheme for the distribution of free milk for our school children. Undoubtedly, as our population increases, there will be an everincreasing demand for the products of small fa rms.
Then again, people in the densely populated countries to the north of Australia are underfed, and, indeed, starving. That situation has prevailed for a long time, but it is now changing in one important respect. Hitherto, no international organization existed to give voice to a feeling of world resentment at, or intolerance of, such a situation. Now, there are all sorts of means whereby pressure can be brought to bear on this country to do. one of two things. Australia can either produce goods or food for the people of Asia and Europe, or admit the nationals of those countries, which we have not the least desire to do, to produce those goods and commodities for themselves.
Consider the facts. Our own demand is increasing, and we are not able to satisfy it, except by the grace of good seasons. The obligation devolves ‘upon us to feed our neighbours. Many Asian countries which formerly were unable to buy our goods because of their limited standard of living, have become so highly industrialized that they can compete for, and pay good prices for our products. In view of all those circumstances, the time was never more opportune when a far-seeing Australian Government could introduce a large-scale scheme for closer settlement. Of course, it is quite footling to talk about any scheme of closer settlement on a large scale while we still have on our books promises which have not yet been honoured, to settle our own sailors, soldiers and airmen on the land. It is highly distasteful for me to criticize even by implication the Government which I have always supported since it has been in office, in view of the purely party political line which certain Opposition members take on this subject, but I must emphasize that I consider that the time for talking about this matter, and not really doing something about it, has ended. Ex-servicemen have been settled on’ the land at the rate of a few hundred a year. We can no longer afford to go along at that pace. I hope that the Government will really examine this problem now and decide to take certain steps to solve it in a completely different spirit from that adopted by it heretofore.
There are many reasons why the rate of war service land settlement has not been so satisfactory as it might have been. The primary reason why the whole pace of soldier settlement was unsatisfactory after the end of World War II. was that a Labour government was in office, and a particularly socialist Minister was responsible for the formulation of the war service land settlement scheme.
– The honorable member should not spoil his speech at this stage.
– Who will deny that the man to whom I refer was a socialist? He admitted that he was a socialist and the admission, fortunately, cost him his seat. He believed that the war service land settlement scheme should be used as a. weapon, as it were, to socialize the means of rural production. I am not criticizing him personally. He honestly believed in such a scheme, just as many Opposition members honestly believe in it to-day. On that ground, he stood, or fell. Fortunately, -lie fell. He believed that it was the only basis of soldier settlement. Tie always thought of soldier settlement in terms of a great Federal and State scheme in which everything would be organized. From the start, the scheme was hogged too deeply in regulations, red tape, and Federal and State administration. The United States of America, which has tackled this problem on a number of occasions after wars, has adopted a far more practical approach to it than has Australia. The Americans said, in fleet, “ If we want to settle our veterans en the land, the primary problem is a financial one. How are we to pay for the Mocks. Who is to be responsible for the enormous amount of public moneys invovled? “ The Americans did not set up a great government department to undertake that responsibility, but agreed that the right people to administer large sums of money for settlement were those who have traditionally done so, that is to say. the trading banks. Whether we like it or not, the people who have most successfully financed land settlement in Australia throughout our history have been th?, evading banks. They are accustomed to evaluing land and stock, and, most important of all, as you, Mr. Speaker, will agree, they are most accustomed to evaluing men. Right from the beginning, we should have done as the United States of America has done. We should have made the moneys available, backed the banks, and told them, in turn, to back the people who wished to secure properties in order to engage in primary production of any description. Some honorable members think almost exclusively in terms of grazing properties. I am thinking also in terms of places that can pro- “ duce vegetables-, fowls, turkeys - indeed, primary products of every kind. Had such a scheme been introduced, war service land settlement would be on a much better basis than it is at the present time. I now turn briefly to the cost of the scheme. In the last twelve months the average cost of settling a man on the land in Victoria had been £16,000.
– No, £11,000.
– All I can say is that the arithmetic of the honorable member for Wannon is different from mine. But, let us suppose that the cost is only £11,000. How can this country afford to settle land at such a cost? It is quite impossible. The reason for this high figure is that, right from the start, we have thought in terms of a government scheme. We should make finance available in greater or lesser amounts for the purchase of large properties, or small farm?. Some honorable members think all the time in terms of the resumption of vast properties, building houses and dams, and erecting fences, and all the rest of it. If we turn the pages of any rural paper published in Australia, we find plenty of properties at very reasonable prices available for sale, on which people have made, a reasonable living, and on which it is still possible for people to make a reasonable living. The point which I make, here is that an exserviceman who wants such a property should be entitled to purchase it, and the money should be forthcoming to him.
I have said all that I want to say about government policy in respect of the land settlement of ex-servicemen, but I should like to add that it seems, from my experience here, that successive Ministers, and, indeed, successive governments, have been quite unable to cope with this problem. This is evident from the pace at which progress has been made. Well, if they are incapable of increasing the pace, let them resort to some other form of machinery which can cope with the situation. The duties of Ministers are increasing daily in Australia, and often abroad. If Ministers cannot cope with some problems, let them delegate certain subjects to committees of this Parliament. There are plenty of people in this House who can examine war service land settlement and submit a worthwhile report that would stand any government in good stead.
– What kind of committee?
– When I speak of a parliamentary committee, I mean an allparty committee consisting of honorable members who have a knowledge of the subject that they are asked to investigate. If the Government is capable of getting on with its job by traditional methods, let it do so. But if it is not, and if it cannot do better than it has done over the last few years, in Heaven’s name let it set up an organization which can do so.
.- All the honorable members who have preceded me in this debate have demonstrated definitely that they are in favour of war service land settlement but there has been a tendency to blame one government or another for failure to carry out an adequate scheme. To-day, unfortunately, the Government is a Liberal-Australian Country party government, but I do think the best thing that could happen would be the presence of a panel of Ministers to hear the pearls of wisdom that have been dropped on this subject of soldier settlement, because I am quite sure that neither the Ministers nor their private secretaries will read Hansard. Therefore, they will remain unaware of any recommendation made on either side of the House.
Soldier settlement is not new. If honorable members were to go back in history, they would get some idea of how long soldier settlement has been practised. During the existence of the Roman Empire every soldier who served a certain period in the army was rewarded with a block of land in his native country or in one of the countries that had been conquered by that empire. Later, in France, Napoleon introduced a sys tem of cutting up land and settling small farmers on it, thereby greatly increasing the production of that country. Upon the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the land fell into the hands of a very small group of people. Consequently, to-day in Italy there are the rich land-holders who have a very much underfed population of peasants working for them. The same position obtains in Spain, where rich people own the bulk of the land, and the rest of the rural population are peasants. In England, during the last war, in order to increase production it was found necessary to cut up a lot of land into smaller blocks. It is obvious to anybody who understands land that, in order to increase production, the land must be cut up into smaller areas.
One very important matter is the value placed on the land and the amount paid for it. A late Prime Minister of New Zealand, Dick Seddon, solved the problem by allowing the land-owners to put their own value on the land. If he thought the valuation was too high, they were taxed on that valuation. If the valuation was fair and equitable, the land was resumed and paid for on that basis. That is how settlement was accomplished in the early days in New Zealand.
I know of very large areas of land that carry only a few bullocks. In particular, I know a gentleman - the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) - who owns an area about half the size of Tasmania. It is situated in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales and in Queensland. That beautiful land, which could be used for dairying and for the many other purposes mentioned by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), is being held solely for the running of bullocks. I know bullocks are very profitable, but that is land on which many soldier settlers could be placed. Areas in that vicinity carry a dairy cow to the acre, yet on the land I refer to there is only an odd bullock here and there.
Many questions have been asked by honorable members of the Minister in regard to the position in Queensland. Queensland entered as a principal State when the scheme was introduced. However, the cost of building roads, surveying, and cutting up the large areas of land became far too expensive. Very often these large areas of land that are resumed have no worthwhile improvements on them, and it becomes imperative for the Government to build roads, install water conservation schemes, and the many other things required to make the land productive. Honorable members, from studying the cost of production in the wheat and dairying industries, have become aware of the enormous capital cost of machinery required for primary production, and for the opening up of roads. To-day, the position is entirely different from what it was in the past, and the Queensland Government has found it impossible to continue the scheme. One of the questions asked was whether it had ceased operations. It has ceased operations. Another question asked was whether it had applied to become an agent State. The Minister replied, “ No “. The Queensland Government did apply to become an agent State, but failed to become one because this Government refused its permission.
– That is not true.
– I do not want to blame the Minister for the Interior, because he was ill at the time, and the acting Minister for the Interior was responsible for the refusal. The honorable gentleman -aid it was not true. The position was not. fully known when the question was asked. If the answer had been “ No, but it: did apply to become an agent State”, that would have covered the position. I had no opportunity of speaking on the matter because the question had been prepared, and probably the Minister was quite aware of it. The reply made the position in Queensland look very bad, indeed. There seems to be a concerted effort by the members of the Australian Country party in this House to discredit the Queensland Government, which, of course, is a Labour government.
I invite honorable members to consider the question of actual expenditure. One hears a lot about the Australian Government making money available. If the Government does make loan money available, it has to be paid for. Let me state the position so far as Queensland is concerned. The total amount expended on war service land settlement in Queensland by the Australian Government from the commencement of the scheme to the. 30th June, 1953, was £318,668. I wish to impress that upon the members of the Country party in particular, and upon other members of the Government.
– What did they do with the other millions they got ?
– For the same period the State expenditure on war service land settlement in Queensland was £3,727,636 14s. lid. That proves conclusively that the State Government did its job.
Mr. Adermann interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite do not like it, I know, but this is the first time I have had the opportunity of bringing the truth before the House. As I have said on previous occasions, truth is hidden at the bottom of the well, but when it comes to the surface it hurts a lot of people. In addition, it is to be noted that the Queensland Government is the only State government that has advanced money for a three-year interest free and redemption free period in order to establish returned soldiers in rural industries. I am not holding up Queensland as an example to the detriment of the other States, but I do say that the Queensland Government has been very sympathetic and has done everything possible to settle returned soldiers on the land, despite the enormous increase in costs. It is not necessary for me to emphasize the tremendous increase in costs in every direction. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), in supporting the recent wheat legislation, pointed out the extent to which the cost of production and the cost of materials have risen, and I accept his statement as being correct. The same type of machinery is required for the opening up of land for soldier settlement. Furthermore, the Queensland Government had to stop operations because the Loan Council refused to take into account the fact that to-day money has not the value it had in the past. It is expected to do the job at pre-war costs. Obviously, that has operated, not only in respect of soldier settlement, but also in every other walk of life. It lias operated in all the activities of the Commonwealth and the State governments. It is so obvious that there should be no debate or argument about it. lt should be freely conceded that a State government could not continue to meet the enormous expenditure involved in war service land settlement if it was being advanced money on the basis of a deflated fi. If we want to settle ex-servicemen on -the land successfully, as I think every honorable member believes we should do, mora money will have to be made available. By making a success of war service land settlement, we shall not only be doing a good turn to our ex-servicemen, who are entitled to some of the land for which they have fought, but we shall also be doing something that will be of immense value to Australia at a later date. I say that no man who has acquired a huge area of land and has not improved it or used it to its full capacity has a right to hold that land while men who fought for this country are land-hungry. The ox-servicemen who have applied for land are mostly young men who want to settle down and raise a family;
I believe that a great deal could be clone to improve the administration of the scheme, with a- view to eliminating waste and enabling the process of settlement to go on smoothly and continuously. Any interruption automatically increases costs. If we can do anything to ensure that land will be available to exservicemen readily and at a reasonable price, and that the technicians and machinery required to make the land productive will be available also, it is our duty to do so. It is purely a waste of time to indulge in recriminations about what one State or one party has failed to do. Our duty is to get on with the joh of settling exservicemen on the land, not only because we owe a duty to them but also because we need happy and contented people on the land in order that Australia may develop along lines that will make it eventually the very great nation it is destined to .become.
Mr. HAMILTON (Canning) ‘9.50].This bill is designed to assist the agent States to implement their war service land settlement schemes. It proposes that £7,000,000 shall be made available to them for that purpose. That figure was criticized by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) and by other members of the Opposition, who spoke mainly about the position in New South Wales and Queensland. Before I deal with some of the comments made by those honorable members, I want to correct a statement made by the honorable member foi1 Henty (Mr. Gullett). He said that in Victoria the average cost of settling an ex-serviceman on a property was about £16,000. In that State, 1,847 men have been settled on the land under the ordinary war service land settlement scheme. In all, Victoria has spent £24,600,000 on war service land settlement. If we divided that sum by the number of settlers, the cost of establishing each settler would work out at about £13,5.00, but I remind the honorable member for Henty and other honorable members that, Victoria has also established 2,259 settlers on single-unit farms. For an expenditure of £24,600,000 it has settled, not only 1,847 men on ordinary properties, but also 2,259 men on single-unit farms. Therefore, the cost of establishing each settler is obviously much less than the figure cited by the honorable member foi Henty, which was based upon a wrong calculation.
The honorable member for Burke, in opening the case for the Opposition on this bill, referred to the number of settlers who had been established on the land throughout Australia, but he, too, forgot to mention that Victoria had settled a certain number of men on singleunit farms. I direct -attention specifically to Victoria because I think all honorable members will agree that that State has done a very good job in connexion with war service land settlement. The honorable member for Burke stated that Queensland had settled only 442 men. That is the figure that we have, and it is the figure that was given to the honorable member by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), but I direct the attention of the House to a comment thai was made by Mr. Foley, the Minister for Lands in Queensland. It was published in the Brisbane Telegraph yesterday. Ho said -
The number of men settled om mixed farms, tobacco and sugar farms and grazing properties is 785, and another 3,223 have received advances to purchase or improve farms.
One of the problems of war service land settlement in the principal States is that there is so much divergence of opinion about what is being done in those States. I shall come back to Mr. Foley’s statement later.
The honorable member for Burke said that £15,000,000 had been spent to settle S63 men in Western Australia, £9,800,000 to settle 536 men in South Australia, and £5,000,000 to settle 232 men in Tasmania. He- divided the total expenditure in each State by the number of men settled in each State, and said that the figure he obtained from that calculation represented the cost of settling a man on the land. But he was well wide of the mark. In an interjection, I suggested that he should check his figures. For his information and for the information of honorable members generally, I point out that a great deal of the expenditure on war service land settlement in each State has been in respect of plant and equipment. I have in mind bulldozers for clearing land, equipment for fencing and structural improvements of buildings and plant for developing the land. It is useless to put a man on a property unless he can earn something from it within a reasonaide time. Pastures have to be established and stock provided. With large areas, great quantities of material and equipment must be available. If the honorable member for Burke visits any of the agent States, he will see large quantities of timber, wire, ‘galvanized iron and other articles required for land settlement stored in depots scattered throughout the areas that are being developed. In two areas in Western Australia, Many Peaks and Rocky Gully, forest land is being cleared by a unique method. Great trees are being felled by 8-ft. steel balls weighing many tons, attached by steel chains to bulldozers working 50 feet apart. On Kangaroo Island, where farms and grazing properties are being developed from virgin bush, great majestic ploughs are tearing down black boys, as we call them in Western. Australia, and rippers are tearing out the roots afterwards. In Tasmania, a great job has been done in draining the Montague Swamp. Projects of that kind cost an immense amount of money, but they must be undertaken before we can even think of putting men on the land in areas such as those. Honorable members will get nowhere by dividing the money spent in any State by the number settled on the land in that State, because before very long many more men will have been settled without much additional expenditure.
The honorable member for Burke went on to say, in a scathing manner, that the best period of war service land settlement in the agent States was when land sales control was in operation. I think the land sales control was abolished in 194S. The figures showing the progress of war service land settlement in Western Australia are comparable with those for other agent States. In 1948, only 180 men were settled on the land in Western Australia.
– At what cost ?
– At that time, £1,688,000 had been spent. In 1949. after the land sales control had been lifted, 39S men were established on the land. Let me remind honorable members that, even while the land sales control was operating in a modified form, the Western Australian Government introduced legislation to allow land to be sold at prices 15^ per cent, in excess of the land sales control valuation. In 1950, 539 settlers were put on the land in Western Australia, and in 1952 the figure rose to 863. From 1948 to early in 1953, there was a Liberal-Australian Country party Government in Western Australia. During that time, war service land settlement proceeded quite well, but, prior to that time, members of this Parliament repeatedly addressed questions to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, Mr. Dedman, in which they asked when something was likely to be done to implement the scheme there.-
The honorable member for Burke said that it was the responsibility of this Government to seize land in the eastern States so that ex-servicemen could be settled on it. If ever there was a statement in favour of unification, it is that statement. Honorable members opposite want this Government to do the dirty work. The States have sovereign rights over land within their borders. If honorable members opposite want any government to seize land, -I suggest that they approach the Labour governments in the eastern States and ask them to do so, especially as those States are principal States. The agent States do all the work in connexion with the acquisition of land. The Commonwealth does not touch that matter at all. The States acquire the land, and the Commonwealth makes finance available to them to do so. They do not lose their sovereign rights over the land. They collect rents from it, which they pay into a revolving fund. Honorable members opposite are constantly reminding us that there are Labour governments in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. If they want land to be resumed, let them ask those governments to resume it. It is not the job of this Government to resume land. If the Commonwealth takes land, it is bound by the Constitution to pay a fair and reasonable price for it. I have heard Ministers of the New South Wales Government say that they do not want an obligation of that kind imposed upon them. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) said that he believed that the rehabilitation of exservicemen was a Commonwealth responsibility. We believe that also, and so did previous Labour Governments. However, at the original conferences between the Commonwealth and the States about land settlement of exservicemen, the Curtin Government offered to undertake the repatriation of ex-servicemen, but the State Labour Premiers of that day refused to allow the Commonwealth to do so. At a conference held in August, 1944, the late John Curtin, who was then Prime Minister of Australia, said to the State Premiers -
I also agree that the States should accept their responsibility.
The Premier of New South Wales almost repeated those words, of Mr. Curtin, and then said -
So far I have suggested that the financial responsibility of the Commonwealth should relate only to repatriation. I have said the responsibility in respect to land settlement should rest with the States.
Accordingly, the then Premier of New South Wales threw cold water on the proposal of Mr. Curtin that the Commonwealth should be responsible for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. He admitted that the Commonwealth had a responsibility in that regard, but he refused to allow the Commonwealth to have anything to do with the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land.
– Who was the Premier of New South Wales at that time? Was it Mi McKell or Mr. McGirr?
- Mr. McKell was the Premier of New South Wales to whom I have been referring. Nevertheless, the policy that he then laid down has been followed by other Labour Premiers of New South Wales. Later, during the same conference, Mr. McKell said -
I have expressed my view that there are two aspects to it. The repatriation aspect is obviously a Commonwealth responsibility, but the proposal that the States should abrogate their responsibility with respect to land settlement is* untenable.
Neither the then Premier of Victoria nor the then Premier of Queensland uttered one word of protest against those views of the Premier of New South Wales. In fact, they agreed entirely with him, and that is the reason why the Australian Government has not handled the complete scheme of land settlement of ex-servicemen. In the light of what some honorable members have said, I doubt whether they believe that the Commonwealth should carry out its responsibilities to the agent States. The honorable member for Wannon referred to land holdings in the western districts, but during a debate on this matter last year I believe that I mentioned figures relating to the western district which showed that twenty holdings had been divided into farms and allotted to ISO or 182 ex-servicemen settlers. The honorable member for Wannon said that this Government had repudiated its responsibilities, but that statement certainly does not come well from him in view of tho number of loans that have been arranged for the benefit of ex-servicemen since the present Government has been in office.
– There is no need to take any notice of what was said by thu honorable member for Wannon.
– I agree with the honorable member for Mallee (Mr.
Turnbull) and I shall take no further notice of his remarks. Mr. Dedman warned the State parliaments and this Parliament, that war service land settlement could not be completed in a short time, but that it would take ten or fifteen years to carry out. The whole scheme he said was to be governed by the availability of good land, and not by the number of exservicemen who had applied for land. Very considerable sums of money have been expended by the Australian Government as advances to the States which have acted as credit authorities for the making of loans of up to £1,500 to ex-servicemen. Those loans have been sufficient to establish them on orchards, poultry-farms and so on.
This Government has certainly no need to defend its attitude towards war service land settlement, because it has tried on a number of occasions to put ex-servicemen on the land, but, unfortunately, two of the principal States are avoiding their obligations. The Opposition has said that the States are not receiving sufficient loan money to carry out their part of the bargain. I quite admit that the amount of loan money that has been asked for by the States has not been made available to them, because the loan market will just not provide the money. It is all very well for the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) to criticize the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) about the amount that the Commonwealth has raised by way of loan for the States, but the honorable member should remember that, as a member of the Opposition, it is very easy for him to criticize the Government and make statements about what should be done and what should not bc done. If he were a member of a governing party and had to take some responsibility for its actions, he would not be so ready to criticize.
If the principal States ask for £70,000,000 from Commonwealth loans and receive only £50,000,000, I believe that the amount of money that they make available for war service land settlement should be. reduced only to correspond with the overall reduction of the loan money. But in two of the principal States the amount that they have ex pended on the land settlement of exservicemen has been reduced by a much greater proportion. The States are not putting sufficient loan money into the war service land settlement scheme, especially in view of their statements at the early conferences when they decided to take all responsibility and threw cold water on the proposals of the then Australian government. New South Wales received £29,000,000 from loan moneys in 1949-50, £40,000,000 in .1950-51 and £60,000,000 in 1951-52. The honorable member for Werriwa in another debate stated that I had claimed that New South Wales received £70,000,000 last year, hut if he studies the figures he will discover that that £70,000,000 was an estimated and not an actual figure. However, the percentage of the loan money allocated by New South Wales to the land settlement of ex-servicemen has fallen each year since this Government has been in office. Victoria has maintained fairly well its percentage of loan allocations to war service land settlement since 1950-51. In that year the percentage was 17 per cent., in 1951-52 10.1 per cent, and last year 10 per cent. But the New South Wales percentage was only 4.7 per cent, last year, and yet New South Wales is the State in which the largest number of ex-servicemen has applied to be settled on the land. At present there are dairyfarms in Tasmania available to men on the mainland, hut just how many will take up those farms we do not know.
It has been said that the £7,000,000 that will be raised under this measure is not sufficient for the purposes for which it is to be used. The honorable member for Burke stated that this £7,000,000 was a “miserable” amount. Honorable members of the Opposition should remember that the raising of this money will depend on the way in which the agent States can expend their shares, and we find that three agent States, who have fewer men to settle than the principal States, placed 139 men on the land last year. Those States received about £1,000,000 as repayments from exservicemen on the land, and to the £7,000,000 that will be raised by this measure must be added a further £1,790,000 for repayments, which will also be expended by the agent States. However, I doubt whether the £1,311,509 which will be paid back to the New South Wales Government by ex-servicemen in the present financial year will be added to the £2,500,000 that that State proposes to expend out of the approved borrowing programme of £63,000,000.
The Queensland Government has repeatedly complained that it is not getting enough loan money, but the percentage of its expenditure of loan money on war service land settlement has been disgracefully low for some years. That is particularly reprehensible in a State that refused to allow the Commonwealth to take over the whole of war service land settlement. Questions have been asked from time to time in this House about whether Queensland now desires to become an agent State. The honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce) said that at a recent conference the Queensland Minister for Lands had agreed to accept the agent State principle. I was present at that conference, and I asked Mr. Foley whether he believed in the agent State principle. He said that he did. but he wanted sovereignty over the land. However, the agent States all have sovereignty over their land, although the previous Labour -Government wanted to allow the ex-servicemen to hold the land only on leasehold tenures. Mr. Foley also said at that conference that he would refer the matter to his Cabinet. On the 6th October the Minister for the Interior was asked in this House whether there had been any further developments on this measure and he replied that the acting Premier of Queensland had written to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who had replied to his letter, and that the Government was awaiting a further communication from Queensland. However, only yesterday, after Mr. Foley had repeatedly said that Queensland wanted to become an agent State, he criticized agent States and the relationship of this Government with them. In the Brisbane Telegraph of yesterday it was reported that he said that Queensland had settled 4,00S exservicemen on the land which was more than tile number settled in all the- agent States together. He criticized what he called the “ miserly “ contribution of £318,000 made by the Commonwealth.
In answer to a question asked by the . honorable member for Burke the Minister for the Interior said that £212,000 had been expended on war service land settle- ment in Queensland, as well as a considerable amount of money which had been made available under the £1,000 loan scheme, which is now the £1,500 scheme. In fact, Queensland received £1,567,000 under this scheme. All this talk by Queensland about becoming an agent State followed this year’s meeting of the Australian Loan Council. At that meeting Queensland put forward claims for certain sums of money which were to bc expended on war service land settlement. After having approved of these amount’1 the Queensland representatives went back to their State and publicly declared that they had finished with war service land settlement. In fact, the money is taken by them under false pretences. Last year a certain amount of money was allocated to that State for war service land settlement purposes but only one-half of it was expended. The honorable member for Lilley (Mi1. Wight) will be dealing with this matter later, and as I have no desire to steal his thunder, I shall say no more about it at this stage than that so far, despite the appeals of this Government to the Government of Queensland to complete the developmental projects at Wandoan and Fairymeade because of the vast sums of money already spent there, the Queensland Government intends to do nothing about it and now desires that Queensland should become an agent State.
– In that event, the Queensland Government might refund the money.
– On the other hand, it may decide to utilize the money for other purposes. There have been some extraordinary occurrences in two of the principal States, New South Wales and Queensland. Yesterday the honorable member for Farrar (Mr. Fairbairn) asked the Minister for the Interior a question relating to a property known as Nowranie. I have taken the trouble to ascertain some facts about it. It is understood that if Commonwealth and State officers, after having inspected a property, declare it to be unsuitable for war service land settlement, no further action is taken in regard to it. The responsible New South Wales Minister has written a letter stating that the Minister for the Interior would not agree to accept the Nowranie property because it was unsuitable for soldier land settlement. I was present at a conference at which it was agreed between the Commonwealth and State representatives that in the event of mutual agreement between Commonwealth and State officers that a property was unsuitable for soldier land settlement no action would be taken in regard to it. Apparently the New South Wales Minister is not prepared to abide by that decision.
It is the intention of this Government, if possible, to complete the war service land settlement scheme in five years. If it succeeds in so doing it will have achieved a worthwhile objective. In order to assure the success of the scheme there must be a complete understanding between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to their responsibilities in regard to it. We must know where we .are going. The States cannot have the advantages of the principal States scheme and the advantages of the agent States scheme as well. This bill provides for the raising of money for the agent States clone but the debate has developed into a general discussion of the soldier settlement scheme. This Government has nothing to be ashamed of in relation to the scheme. It has been the medium of settling more men on the land than has any other government. We are prepared to play ball with the States, but they cannot have it both ways, as the Minister for the Interior clearly told them on the 7th July last. The States are making a different approach to the subject now than they did when the Curtin Government was in office in 194.4. When the agent States scheme was first drafted and the principal States asked to be brought into it, Mr. Curtin categorically replied, “ No “.
.- The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), who has given us a long and exhaustive explanation of the soldier settlement scheme as he sees it, is appa rently the victim of passionate confusion. He had before him a mouse’s nest of papers, which he read page by page. J followed him closely and with great intensity, as did other honorable members on this side of the House, but the net result seemed to be a sort of apologetic conclusion that the Government is doing its best in this matter. He gave lis a gaggle of information- about the agent States and the principal States. He told us how the great bulldozers on Kangaroo Island rolled over the trees and cleared the land. Elementary, ray dear Watson, indubitably so ! What we want to know, and what a supporter of the Government wants to know, is when the Government, intends to push on with soldier settlement, to free it from its enveloping red tape and over-organization. What we want to know is when some real achievements will be recorded. The honorable member for Canning did not attempt to answer the most cogent part of the Opposition’s case when the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), who led the debate on behalf of the Opposition, cited figures that had been furnished by the Minister and showed the excessive cost of soldier settlement; his apologia was merely that the cost included the provision of all the things that go to make up the home of the settler. We do not contest that. We realize that many factors add to the cost, including the use of the bulldozers which seem to have so fascinated the honorable member. Nevertheless, the cost is still excessive. It was in no spirit of carping criticism that the honorable member for Burke directed attention to that matter. Indeed, he highlighted the fact that the developmental costs are bound to be high but that as more men are settled on the land the cost will not be so terrific. The honorable member for Canning failed to answer the charges made by the honorable member for Burke, or if he answered them I failed to grasp the implication of his answer. The figures cited by the honorable member for Burke have been completely vindicated. I have no desire to bore the House by repeating the statistics which were used so incontrovertibly by the honorable member for Burke. 1 was interested to find that the major criticism of the scheme as well as the apologies for it came, not from the Opposition, but from a supporter of the Government. The honorable member for Burke did a service to this House and to the community by directing attention to a problem that we all wish to see straightened out. “We all are fond of saying that this is not a political issue, but it must of necessity be a political issue when two parties to the agreement are contending as to the rights and wrongs of the case. Considered in that broad, general way, the statement made by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) was an extraordinarily fine one. Indeed, the honorable member is addicted to the making of fine statements on a variety of subjects, but unfortunately he does nothing more than complain. If this Government’s administration is so bad in many respects he should join ns on this side of the House and do everything possible to remedy the position. He is an authority on this matter because he is that Tara avis, a gentleman farmer - a beautiful bird on the bough. We have, on our side of the House, a soldier settler - a hero of the Gringi Galgona who survived the travails of the 1918 soldier settlement scheme in the person of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod). Thanks to the providence of God, he is now prosperous. To have become a successful farmer despite the administration of the soldier settlement scheme by Liberal governments of the past is no mean feat. I salute the honorable member !
The bill indicates how far we have progressed with the soldier settlement scheme. No matter how honorable members opposite may babble about the principal States, the agent States, the bulldozers, and the horrible crimes that the sovereign States have committed in an attempt to preserve their sovereign rights, the fact remains that we have not progressed very far with this scheme. What is wrong with the States taking measures to protect their sovereign rights in a federation such as ours? All the mewling and puking of the infants in politics among honorable members opposite is of no significance. The States have rights over their own lands. Those rights have never been challenged. The honorable member for Canning has talked about a nigger in the woodpile. He has told us that at a conference that was held a little while ago, some one told him that the States were demanding sovereign rights over their own lands. What of it? This scheme is not new. It dates back to World War I. Amendments have been made to it over the years, but the scheme itself was accepted years ago. Thousands of ex-servicemen were settled on the land after World War I. and, eventually, when a Labour government is returned to the treasury bench, thousands of exservicemen, including the Korean veterans, will be settled on the land as expeditiously as possible by farmers and others on this side of the House, who understand the land.
The nub of the situation which the Government will not grapple with is the small amount of money that has been allocated for soldier land settlement. Does the Government not know that the problem is one of its own inheritances and that in making available these niggardly amounts for the scheme it is virtually running up a signal to the mast indicating that the scheme has come to a standstill? The honorable member for Henty told us that the United Nations Pood and Agriculture Organization has directed attention to the diminishing quantity of primary produce throughout the world. If the atom bomb or the cobalt bomb does not get us, we may starve to death because of our over organization into city and urban communities. Are the miserable amounts of. money provided by this Government to be its sole contribution to the problem of soldier land settlement? Does the Government consider that the provision of £6,000,000, £9,000,000 and £7,000,000 in its successive years of office, is a sufficient contribution to the scheme having regard to the increased production that could be achieved if our men were able to be placed on the land? According to published statistics land-hungry exservicemen number approximately 30,000. The figures relating to the number of men who hold qualifying certificates but are still waiting for blocks have been cited by the honorable member for Burke. There is utter frustration in relation to the soldier settlement scheme and we know the reasons for it. I have a very shrewd suspicion that the honorable member for Henty also knows the reasons for it when it suits him to do so.
There is a contrast between the amounts made available for soldier settlement and those provided for the immigration scheme which I should like the House to note. This Parliament voted approximately £7,000,000 this year for the purpose of bringing new Australians to this country. No matter what advertisements emanating from Australia House may show we cannot sell Europeans the idea that this is not a vast empty country where men may be settled on the land when we spend as much money on immigration as we provide for soldier settlement. When they arrive in this country they realize that their hopes of settling on the land are very dim. That is the position and it is, perhaps, a summation of the remarks of the honorable member for Henty which I was so glad to be in the House to hear.
The Government is in the habit of postulating that this is the best of all possible worlds and that it cannot make any mistake about these things because it has the interests of ex-servicemen so rauch at heart. Do the State governments consider that this scheme has been successful? Is there not a feeling among ex-servicemen that the scheme is going ahead much too slowly? Is there not a fear among the old crusty inhabitants of the land, the descendants of the old landlords, that if an ex-serviceman is able to get hold of their land, and wool prices continue to soar, before long the exserviceman will be as well off as they are ? Why is there constant wrangling and argument about the acquisition of almost every property that is resumed in New South Wales ? Why were the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) and a former honorable member for New England in this House most aggressive in their antagonism towards the acquisition of estates? Both of them are ex-servicemen and men who desire fervently that exservicemen should have the opportunity to go on the land, but their feeling was that the land should not go to anybody from the cities, but should remain in the hands of people who knew how to farm it.
The ancient and horrible history of the old farmer is that he destroyed his land.
I have not the right under the standing orders to discuss soil erosion and the wastage of our natural asset, the land, so I shall return to the point concerning the future of war service land settlement, whether it will continue at its present snail’s pace, die of its own inertia, or he rejuvenated. The leader of the Victorian Liberal party, Mr. Bolte, went on record as saying that the present Government, which is a government of his own ilk, kidney and colour, appears reluctant to permit war service land settlement to continue. Mr. Bolte advocated in 1951 that a deadline be placed on the scheme, which should be tapered off. So there are two views on this matter. We have the view of that visionary, the honorable member for Canning, who has just left the chamber, who envisages the tumbling forests, the virgin soil upturned, the sweep of settlement, the great Cherokee land rush in an Australian setting; and we have the view of the logical-minded leader of the Liberal party in Victoria, who says that the scheme should be tapered off, and that we should finally get rid of it. He. not the Labour party, is the judge of this Government. The fact that he is a leading member of the Liberal party makes his condemnation of the Government all the more apposite.
The problem of settling ex-servicemen on the land is not the haggle between the States about which* of them shall be agent States and which shall be principal States. I reject out of hand the statement attributed by the honorable member for Canning to a former, Premier of New South Wales, who was then Mr. McKell, to the effect that he objected to the war service land settlement scheme. As a matter of fact, that Premier was the most countryminded Premier New South Wales ever had, and the vast rural development that has taken place in that State is in many ways due to him and the Government that he led. He used the word “ repatriation “ in its dictionary meaning and not in the meaning that the honorable member for Canning has ascribed to it. There has not been any danger, and there should not be any danger of conflict in an arrangement by which a sovereign State would provide the land and a federal government would provide the money needed for war service land settlement. Indeed, with the new system of taxation in this country, under which income tax and other major taxes are collected solely hy the Commonwealth, a scheme for war service land settlement could not be operated in any other way. The figures that will appear in the press to-morrow in reports of this debate are a pathetic admission of how this country has failed t» meet its obligations. We only have to count the weary intervening years between 1945 and 1953 to get an idea of the frustration of the man -in the city who wants to go on the land. I am the parliamentary representative of a middle class constituency. There are ex-servicemen in my constituency, including tramguards, factory operatives and other workers in industry, who are the descendants of farmers, and are anxious to get back to the land. Their desire to return to the land is so strong, enduring and persistent that they come to see me about it on every conceivable occasion. I shall follow the example of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue), and remind my electors now that I am a vailable in the electorate every Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. The whole scheme of war service land settlement is moving too -slowly, and it is up to the government of the day, which will be the government for some time to come, to accelerate the pace. It is all-very well for honorable gentlemen opposite to ask us, “What happened under the Chifley Government ? “ Honorable members opposite always use the achievements of the Chifley Government as a yardstick by which to measure their own achievements. If they appear to be doing a better job than the Chifley Government did then they are mighty proud of themselves. We are pleased with their admiration of the Chifley Government’s performances, but I remind them that in relation to this particular matter that Government had to face extreme shortages of men and material. It was carrying out a war service land settlement scheme at the same time as it was decanting 1,000,000 men and women out of the services, and when the country was in a state of intense flux. It is an amazing compliment to the Chifley Government that its work is still used as a measuring stick by this Govern- ment to assess its own progress in war service land settlement. We admit that the Chifley Government made a slow start in war service land settlement because df reasons that. are apparent to all honorable members. We claim, however, that, given present conditions, there should be more progress now.
The fact that the Minister’s secondreading speech, which he made after he introduced the bill, covers only two paltry roneoed sheets, makes it not only curt, but also contemptible. The amount to be provided under the measure is equally contemptible. The Opposition would like to have a full-dress debate on the problems of ex-servicemen, and would assist in having such a debate made possible, but would like the debate to be extensive and not curtailed. The honorable member for Canning pointed out that in some instances in the past the agent States have returned money that was made available to them for war service land settlement because of profits they had made on properties that they had acquired and not subdivided. That happened because of the acute difficulty in those days of obtaining men and materials. Those conditions have gone, yet the pace has not been accelerated as it should have been, and the results of the scheme are meagre and unsatisfactory. That is one point. The present position is eminently curable. With the assistance of the Opposition and the aggregate brain power on the Government side, of which I do not see much evidence to-night, we may be able to get something’ done. It is’ not an impossible task, but it is an imperative task. The second point is, where are the necessary lands to be had ? If the Government is not prepared to find that land by financing large-scale acquisitions, then we shall not get very many fine farms for ex-servicemen. We have to bring this out of the realm of tuppeny-coloured patriotic slogans down to the hard black and white of reality. The only way to do that is to have a geophysical survey. Honorable members opposite know that we live on the lush fringe of this continent. They talk about the nation’s potentialities in the outback areas, but they only fly over these areas in fast aircraft and waste no time in returning to the amenities of life in the cities. “We know that the rich farmlands that fringe a part of this country are in the fertile area in which, in the first instance, the. farms for war service land settlers must be located if they are to be a success. These farms must be in areas where they can be run at a profit because, unless we get a continuance of careeringly high prices for primary products such as wool and wheat, new farmers will have to work hard to make a success of their land. Therefore, the land on which they are settled must be good workable land. Surely honorable members opposite would not suggest that wool will remain forever at a price of £1 per lb., or that under any international agreement wheat will remain forever at a price of 15s. a bushel. When the Government has brought into existence a heavy capital debt for ex-service settlers, can it leave them with it ? No ! Part of the ‘decision of both the States and the Commonwealth is that a fair price for the .subdivided land shall be fixed, and that the taxpayers shall carry some of the debt. That is not an entirely reasonable proposition either, because the farms should be such .chat they will be profitable enough to enable the settlers to repay the original loan. I do not think that there should be confiscation of a man’s property, but surely if it is possible for the valuers of a bank to estimate the ultimate capital value of a cottage before it lends the money to build it, valuers could be found to make the same sort of valuations in relation to rural properties.
Disasters have occurred in rural areas. You, Mr. Speaker, have vast experience of farming, and you know that the first farmers to go to the wall during depressions and in long droughts are those whose farms are over-capitalized. They bought land at high prices without taking into consideration its production possibilities, not in boom times, but in times of the lowest common denominator of drought and disaster, which affect this country in cycles. Anybody who has applied his mind to the question of war service land settlement must get back, no matter what his inhibitions may be, to the question of reasonably priced land. The financial burden cannot be loaded forever onto the taxpayer and it cannot be loaded entirely onto the .new settler.
We also cannot let the old land-taker, who has been on the land for 50 years, and whose father was there 50 years before him, load himself with the spoils and leave for Vaucluse or Toorak while 30 settlers are left to sweat it out trying to carry the burden of increased land values. When we get the acceleration of production that will come from the subdividing of properties and from the activities of the department - it is not the department that is under criticism now, but the Government’s policy - we will really get somewhere. The figures that have been given to the House to-night show how we have slipped in relation to our responsibilities to the ex-servicemen who want to go back on the land.
I shall deal now with several points which were raised by the honorable member for Canning. He claimed that the money to be made available to the States under this bill would be adequate. He then said that something amounting to a fraudulent practice was being followed by the States in relation to’ the amounts set aside for war service land settlement, and talked about the injustices inflicted by the States on land-owners. When the freezing hand of the Commonwealth was laid on their heads at the meeting of the Loan Council the States were thrown into dismay. Their housing commitments had be scaled down. Their vast developmental schemes, which in the long run will make large areas habitable for ex-servicemen, had to be scaled down and, eventually, in the process, their war service land settlement activities had to be scaled down also. The Minister for Lands in New South Wales told me that finance was still lacking to bring into production land in some of the luscious parts of New South Wales, for instance in the Capertee Valley, with which the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) is familiar. Land in the Capertee Valley that could be subdivided into sixteen farms requires only capital to make these farms into going concerns. As the allocation to New South Wales is so perilously low, to all intents and purposes the scheme has been sabotaged. Surely honorable members opposite cannot wildly claim that New South Wales, which is a principal State, has sabotaged it? They will not deny that the Government’s attitude to financing the scheme in the last two years is the reason why this plan has been laid low. So the contentions of the honorable member for Canning do not get very far. He was indulging in the fashionable niggle against the States, but in this instance the States have a good case to put up for themselves. The situation in New South Wales has been considerably worsened by the puny grant from the Commonwealth, and the contribution made to the problem by the big land-owners has not helped. The New South Wales Government, bedevilled with applications to the High Court and the Privy Council about whether or not it has the power to resume property at certain values, has expended its own revenue for the acquisition of land for war service land settlement. The honorable member has referred to the examination of a property somewhere in the electorate of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) as an indication of the frustration that the prospective land settler has suffered. It is valid for us to say that, with some notable individual exceptions, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, particularly the latter, seem to be more concerned with the price of land, inflated as it is to-day, than with the availability of land for the settlement of ex-servicemen. The big concept of closer settlement, of which the settlement of ex-servicemen is the younger brother, has been entirely lost sight of because of the holdings that have aggregated over the years. We must not forget that immigration settlement must eventually take place. The Government is not doing any imaginative planning for the settlement of ex-servicemen or immigrants. It has cost Australia £6,000,000 to bring about 100,000 immigrants into the country to be spilled into the cities. The same paltry amount has been applied in our efforts to settle 30,000 returned servicemen on the land with resultant irritation and frustration. Neither effort has been particularly noble. The figures cited by the honorable member for Burke are worthy of consideration. He merely said that they had been handed to him, but their whole tragic import .was confirmed by his statement that only a’ handful of settlers had been established in each State at a cost of millions of pounds. That is the measure of our efforts to settle ex-servicemen on the land, notwithstanding anything that the Government may say about the matter.
Finally, I turn my attention again to the remarks of the honorable member for Henty, who said, with a wide sweep, that there must be more food and greater rural development, that the Government had done nothing to achieve these results and that he, as the Government Whip, should apply a goad to drive it into action. I pay him the tribute of acknowledging his great sincerity in this matter. He is knowledgeable on the subject of land settlement, and the views of a knowledgeable man should always be heeded. I pause, in passing, to thank honorable members for their attention to my remarks. The honorable member for Henty made a good point at the conclusion of his speech when he said that consideration of war service land settlement in this House was a hotchpotch business in which some honorable members were ‘ interested and others were not. Why did we not have a committee, he inquired. Echo answers, “ Why ? “ The reason is that the Government has almost killed the committee system. We had at least six working joint “committees in this Parliament in the days of the Chifley Government, and the Opposition now would welcome the establishment of a committee to deal with ex-servicemen’s land settlement so that all parties represented in this House could share their knowledge and pool their brains.
– Why did the Opposition refuse to co-operate on the Foreign Affairs Committee?
– The honorable member knows what Marat said about the people - “ There are people and people “. Members of the Opposition have a mental reservation in regard to that because of certain events of the past. I return seriously to the question asked by the honorable member for Henty. The proposal to establish a committee to deal with war service land settlement is thrown back on the Government’s doorstep. The Government sabotaged the committee system. It did not want committees in the first glorious flush of its victory, and it swept them away in a most undemocratic manner. If the Government will establish a committee on war service land settlement, the Opposition will be sure to co-operate with it and set it hack on the tortuous road to a fair deal for ex-servicemen who want to settle on the land. With such a committee, no holds should be barred and no records should be withheld. Our objective should be to achieve something for the advantage of ex-servicemen regardless of our party political affiliations.
.- For the last 30 minutes the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has treated the House to a spate of words on the very important subject of war service land settlement. We on this side of the House believe in action, and the record of this Government in relation to war service land settlement over the last three years is one of action. The bill, before us is designed to authorize the raising of moneys for the purpose of financial assistance to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania in connexion with war service land settlement. As the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) pointed out in his second-reading speech, this money will be advanced under approved conditions to the three agent States that I have mentioned to be used by them for the acquisition, development and improvement of land for subdivision and allotment to classified ex-servicemen and for the supply to those ex-servicemen of working capital and finance for the purchase of structural improvements, stock, plant and equipment. I have mentioned these facts because, in the spate of words that we have heard, the true purposes and implications of the bill have been somewhat obscured.
I deplore some of the statements that were made by the honorable member for Parkes because they were not in accordance with the facts and the record of war service land settlement over the years during which this Government has been in office. To accuse this Government of paltriness, niggardliness and lack of interest in the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land is to cast a slur where it is not deserved. The honorable gentleman also spoke of utter frustration in relation to war service land settlement. That term can apply with justice only to those States that are not participating with the Commonwealth ,in the dual CommonwealthState scheme which has operated so successfully in the three agent States.The Government and its- supporters are deeply interested in the settlement of exservicemen on the land, and I am glad to know that some members of the Opposition share our interest because I believe that this matter should be above the party political level. Surely the treatment of those men who fought and risked their lives for their country in time of war should be considered on a nonparty basis. Such men should be given every hell) and encouragement that this Parliament can give to them. Clause 5 of the bill is of particular interest to me as a Queenslander. Queensland is one of the States that has not yet become an agent State, and I am very hopeful that it, and the other two principal States of New South Wales and Victoria, will see the light and appreciate the wonderful progress that has been made under the dual scheme in the agent States so that they all will fall into line and become agent States.
– Queensland has applied to become an agent State.
– Yes, but only on certain conditions. I shall have something more to say about that application later in my speech.
I am very pleased to see the provision in the bill that will make it possible for grants to be made to States other than the three agent States named in the preamble. The proposed appropriation of £7,000,000 under the bill will be supplemented by approximately £1,500,000, which the Government estimates will be received during 1953-54 from repayments of advances made previously to settlers and from various other sources. Financial assistance estimated at slightly more than £1,500,000 will be paid to all States for non-capital expenditure, such as the cost of interest charges, rent concessions, the writing down of the cost of holdings, and living allowances for settlers. It is’ a fact, ‘which is readily confirmed by investigation, that war service land settlement has made vastly greater progress in the agent States than it has made in the principal States, which have chosen up to the present to conduct their own settlement schemes for ex-servicemen. In Queensland, the position has become so bad that war service land settlement is almost at a standstill. This matter was debated recently in the Queensland Parliament, and Mr. Foley, the Minister for Lands, admitted that there had been a. bad lag in the scheme during the last couple of years. This Government is so concerned about the position in the three principal States that on more than one occasion it has offered them an opportunity to become agent States. I hope that the governments of the principal States will have the wisdom to try to raise themselves above the party political level and so give to intending ex-service settlers in those States benefits equal to those available to ex-servicemen in the agent States.
This Government considers war service land settlement to be of prime importance from two points of view, first, from the point of view of the re-establishment of ex-servicemen and, secondly, from the point of view of increased food production. The second point is no less important than the first, because it is the duty of Australia to put its hand to the plough and to increase its food production in the interests of the free democracies. Under the original war service land settlement proposal, the Commonwealth undertook to provide certain capital moneys necessary to acquire and develop lands and to make advances to settlers for stock, plant, improvements, and working expenses. . Under that proposal, detailed administration of the scheme was to be left to the individual agent States, but the Commonwealth was to retain some authority in relation to overall policy, ft is on this point that I take issue with the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), who interjected earlier that the Queensland Government wa > willing to become an agent State. That is true, but it wants to become an agent State on its own terms. We should like to see the Queensland Government, and the governments of the other two principal States, come into line on the terms and conditions that already apply in the agent States. We cannot have variations of the scheme in different States. We should have a uniform policy in the interests of all concerned.
It is very unfortunate that only three States have so far accepted the status of agent States under the original proposal. Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria refused to participate under the terms of that proposal and insisted on retaining sole control of their own schemes in relation to both the selection of lands for acquisition and the allocation of funds. The unwisdom of their decision is shown by the results. Under a separate agreement, these principal States undertook to provide the capital moneys that were needed for the acquisition of land and for advances to settlers. At the same time, the Commonwealth undertook to make certain moneys available for non-capital expenditure such as I mentioned earlier. The three so-called principal States have largely failed to honour the undertaking that was embodied in the agreement to which they became parties. I refer particularly to Queensland and New South Wales. In both of those States many hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of ex-servicemen are still awaiting settlement on the land. The promises that were made to them have not been fulfilled, -although they have been waiting for years. In the three agent States, however, the dual CommonwealthState control system has functioned smoothly and effectively. The whole history of war service land settlement in the agent States is a powerful argument in favour of all States assum-ing the same status as soon as possible. It is a matter for great regret that the Labour Governments of Queensland and New South Wales have played party politics on this important issue to the detriment of men for whom we should be doing our best. The cry from the New South Wales and Queensland Governments that they are short of loan funds will not bear investigation. Such a. claim is a hollow sham. Their tirades of abuse of this Government, and particularly the criticisms hurled at it by the Queensland Minister for Lands, are designed to provide a smoke screen, as it were, to conceal their ineptitude and poor record in the administration of their own land settlement schemes.
Out of a total loan’ allocation of £25,480,000 in 1952-53, the Queensland Government provided only £676,500 for war service land settlement. In other words, the Government of that State saw fir, to make available only 2.6 per cent, of its loan allocation for that year for the purpose of settling ex-servicemen on the land. The New South Wales Government, which Lad the next worst record, applied 2.8 per cent, of its total loan funds for the land settlement of exservicemen in 1952-53. Of the three principal States, Victoria had easily the best record. The Government of that State allocated 7.2 per cent, of its total loan allocation, or nearly three times the percentage applied by the Queensland Government for the settlement of exservicemen on the land. A survey of the scene in the last ten years reveals that only a fraction of the number of applicants in Queensland has actually been settled on the land. This is a shocking state of affairs.
The Queensland Government must bear the blame for the present position, because a considerable portion of the funds which have been specifically allocated’ to that State for soldier settlement have not been applied in that way. The Labour Government under-spent by £141,195 the loan granted to Queensland for war service land settlement in 1950-51. The under-expenditure in the next financial year was £320,802, and £452,460 in 1952-53. In other words, of the total loan moneys granted to Queensland for war service land settlement in the last three years, the Labour Government has underspent the allocation by £914,457. Yet the Queensland Minister for Lands claims that the reason for the failure of war service home settlement in that State is due to the shortage of loan funds.
Altogether, about £500,000 has been repaid by settlers in Queensland. The money has not been used to further the war service land settlement scheme, but has been paid into Consolidated Revenue Yet the Queensland Government persists in blaming the Commonwealth for the present state of war service land settlement. In the last three years, loan allocations have increased by millions of pounds, and during that time, the Queensland Government has been spending less and less on the settlement of exservicemen. In other words, it has not been spending anything like the whole sum specifically granted to it for this important purpose. Yet we constantly hear the cry from the Queensland Labour Government about a shortage of loan funds. The fact is that the Queensland Government finished the last financial year with a surplus of £190,897, and has a total credit balance in cash and liquid funds of more than £19,000,000. That position does not bear out that there is any truth in the assertion of the Queensland Government regarding lack of Commonwealth assistance for land settlement schemes in that State. The blame for the present position is attachable entirely ‘ to the Queensland Government. That fact should be borne in mind.
In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, which are the principal States, only leasehold tenure is available to exservicemen. In the agent States exservicemen have the option of leasehold or freehold land. That point is important. Another point is that the Commonwealth exercises joint control in the three agent States. In Queensland, ex-servicemen are obliged to pay at once 1.5 per cent, of the unimproved value of the land, and must purchase structures and other capital improvements on it. The applicant mayborrow up to £7,500 from the Agricultural Bank, but even that is not a great help, when we consider that the average cost of settling an ex-serviceman on a farm is between £10,000 and £12,000. Every penny of the money put into the scheme by the Queensland Government, with the exception of the cost of administration, is an investment on which the Queensland Government collects interest from the exserviceman. In the agent States, Commonwealth moneys are, in fact, a grant to the settler. Many thousands of exservicemen are now happily settled on the land in the three agent States, and the money which they are repaying is being used to finance new settlers. So the scheme is flowing along smoothly and effectively.
Money repaid is not paid into Consolidated Revenue, as is done in Queensland, but is used to good purpose.
As recently as last July, the Commonwealth renewed its invitation to the principal States, particularly Queensland and New South Wales, to join the Commonwealth scheme, which has operated so successfully. It is a matter of great regret that those States refused to participate in the scheme. Apparently, their main ground for refusal has been that they do not want to part with their sovereign powers over the scheme. The honorable member for Canning pointed out, in his comprehensive address earlier this evening, that those States, if they joined the Commonwealth scheme, would not be parting with any degree of sovereignty over their land. All that the Commonwealth insists on is that it has some voice in regard to overall policy, and that procedure operates at present in the agent States.
I can only conclude from the record that the Queensland and New South Wales Governments are quite indifferent to the fate of ex-servicemen who are desirous of settling on the land, and therefore, they must accept full responsibility for their failure to fulfil their obligations to those men. The Commonwealth offer to assist the establishment of cx-servicemen in Queensland and New South Wales is still open to the governments of those States. I am sure that everyone who has a genuine concern for the welfare of ex-servicemen will join with me in expressing the hope that the governments of those States will think again, and will link up with the wider Commonwealth scheme which has functioned so effectively in the three agent States.
.- Mr. Speaker, may I compliment you on the latitude which you have allowed honorable members in this debate. I feel sure that that latitude, and your general urbanity, have been appreciated, both by the squatters on your right and the peasants on your left. In between, are Ihe members of the Australian Country party, who have not attended this debate, or participated in it, in very great numbers. I except from that statement, the (honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), who has been consistent in his attendance, although one might think that his pastoral experience is of a different kind from that which this bill seeks to promote.
The House is considering, strange as it may seem, a bill to make grants to the three agent States, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, and the debate has centered entirely on the principal States, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Moreover, the debate concerns the war service land settlement scheme, which came into operation after World War II. However, many references have been made to the settlement of ex-servicemen after World W ar 1., and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), ever a resourceful debater, went back to grants of land made to officers in the New South Wales Rum Corps during the Napoleonic wars. Of course, the honorable member is a man who can well encompass that. He has a wide field of knowledge and appreciation of life. He is an exponent, with equal distinction, in the arts of war, the practice of agriculture, and the products of viticulture. The only blemish on his speech was his reference to the honorable gentleman who instituted the plan for the land settlement of ex-servicemen during World War II. and immediately afterwards. I refer to ‘ the Honorable John Dedman, himself a captain in the Indian Army and a farmer, who will undoubtedly be returning to this House after an interregnum of four years, like Cincinnatus from his farm, next year.
It is with regret that I feel I must return to the bill, and the real subject of the debate to-night. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), in answer to a question to-day, said that there are as many applicants still eager to go on the land as have already been allotted blocks. That figure applies to the agent States, and to the principal States. It is of no use to differentiate between agent States and principal States in that regard. Only half the applicants have been accommodated in the agent States, and only half have been accommodated in the principal States. Half have still to be catered for in the agent States, and half in the principal States. It is of little comfort to those who are waiting for blocks to be told that the Australian Government is in no worse a position in the agent States than are the State governments in the principal States, and it is a profitless pastime, surely, for the present Government to adjure the States to take the motes out of their eyes when it loaves a beam of equal size in its own eye.
Reference has been made to the number of settlers in each State, and the cost of settling them on the land. I shall make bold to quote from figures which have been mentioned in State parliaments regarding the principal States, and given in answer to questions to the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) in this House on the 18th September last. It would appear, from those combined sources of information, that New South Wales has spent, -since World War II. £25,000,000 from its loan funds on war service land settlement, that the Commonwealth has contributed £778,000 in that State, and that 2,002 men have been settled on the land. Victoria has spent £33,600,000 from its loan allocations, the Commonwealth has contributed £735,000, and 4,200 men have been settled 021 the land in that State. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether it is disorderly if I refer to the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for the Interior-
– Order ! It is.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I got away with the use of that title when your deputy was in the chair a few days ago.
Mr. ‘ Wheeler interjecting,
– I cannot help observing that the best the honorable member for Mitchell can say in reply to mc is to make reference to the great man to whom I am matrimonially allied. He does not deal with any of the facts that 1 have mentioned.
– What has that got to do with the case?
– Order ! Interjections are disorderly.
– I completely agree with the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) that it has nothing to do with the case, but earlier in the day the honorable member for Mitchell, in his usual vapid style, thought it had some relevance to it. I said that the honorable member for Canning referred to the cost of settling ex-servicemen on the land in Victoria, but he referred to only half of those so settled. He referred to 1,847 who were settled, but he did not refer to the 2,259 single-unit farms established under the same scheme.
– I did.
– My recollection of the honorable member’s remarks is that, his figure for the cost of settling exservicemen on the land in Victoria should be halved. The loan funds appropriated for war service land settlement in Queensland after World War II. amounted to £3,727,636. The Commonwealth contributed £212,000 and 442 men were settled. From the figures it will be seen that this Government has contributed not one thirty-sixth of the amount of money that the three principal States have spent out of loan funds. The total amount of money spent in the principal States, which has settled 6,500 exservicemen on the land, is approximately £60,000,000. I refer again to the answers supplied to the honorable member for Burke on the 18th September, which show that the three agent States spent £25,000,000 and settled 1,500 exservicemen. These figures show that the principal States have spent twice as much money and have settled four times as many ex-servicemen as have been settled in the agent States. Finance is really the core of this problem of war service land settlement. That is shown by the fact that there were never any complaints from honorable members opposite about the delay in settling ex-servicemen on the land until the middle of last year, and those complaints were made only after the Australian Loan Council meeting in May, 1952.
– The honorable gentleman would not know.
– The Minister will have an opportunity of correcting me.
– However, I think he will not venture too far into this field. His one intrusion into the field of war service land settlement was at a conference on the 31st March last, which was completely inconclusive, and probably his acting as an agent for the Minister for the Interior on that occasion was as unfortunate as that Minister’s own administration in the agent States. In 1952-53, the principal State of New South Wales was granted by the Australian Loan Council the sum of £70,370,000. The figure I used was the approved figure, and T cite that figure from a letter sent to me on the 15th July last by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). I repeat that last year the Australian Loan Council approved an amount of £70,370,000 for New South Wales, but the amount raised - and again I cite the figures supplied by the Treasurer- was £51,178,000. Victoria had an amount of £54,960,000 approved, and received £39,971,000. Queensland had an amount of £25,480,000 approved, and received £18,531,000. Honorable members will see that the amount available to the three principal States was very greatly reduced. The amount of money spent in New South Wales and Victoria, at any rate, on war service land settlement was reduced. The honorable member for Canning complained that the reduction in respect of war service land settlement in those States was not pro rata with the reductions in other respects. The States resolved that employment must be maintained and they were faced with the position that the amount of money required to settle one exserviceman on the land was enough to keep eighteen ex-servicemen in employment otherwise. The decision made by those States will be applauded by returned servicemen both inside and outside this House. No honorable member would say it would be reasonable to dismiss eighteen ex-servicemen in order to settle one.
Queensland was criticized last year. That is all the more remarkable, when it i.? noted that for the last financial year Queensland allocated more money for war service land settlement than in any previous year. It allocated £676,500. In the previous year its allocation was £407,994 and in the year prior to that it was £473,629.
The honorable member for Canning, when he cited the percentages spent on war service land settlement, based them on the amount approved by the Australian Loan Council and not on the amount actually available to the respective States. Honorable members opposite cannot deny that last year for the first time the Commonwealth usurped the power of veto in the Australian Loan Council. If honorable members opposite care to study the Financial Agreement with the States, which is not a State creation but which was endorsed by the entire Australian people, the citizens of Commonwealth and State alike, a quarter of a century ago they will find that neither the States nor the Commonwealth received the power of veto or abstention in the Australian Loan Council. The States and the Commonwealth had usually agreed on the amount to be allotted by the Australian Loan Council, but last year for the first time in twenty years there was a disagreement in consequence of which the States have received less money for, among other things, war service land settlement.
It was not long after that that the Minister for the Interior started to make statements on this subject. Among other statements he said, on the 13th November last, that he would summon a conference with the three principal States. But he has no power to summon such a, conference. He can invite them to a conference in the same way as they can invite him. but there is no over-riding power in the Commonwealth or in the States in that matter. He said he had been informed that, under its defence powers, there was no constitutional bar to the Commonwealth acquiring anr! developing land for the re-establishment of ex-servicemen. There is no doubt about its power in that regard. Just as the Commonwealth for over a generation has resumed land for the erection of war service homes in the sovereign States, so it has also been able to resume land for war service land settlement in those States. The honorable member for Canning, who holds a position which I cannot mention, never refers to the statement of the Minister that he has power himself to implement war service land settlement in the States. It is not a question of the States refusing to surrender their .sovereignty. When it comes to the exercise of the defence power, the States have no sovereignty if the Commonwealth chooses to exercise its sovereignty. After making that empty threat, the Minister has continued to back-pedal. Subsequent to his statement on the 13th November last that he intended to summon a conference with the States, a conference was held on the 31st March last and the Minister was represented by the Minister for Defence. The meeting was attended by the Ministers of the three principal States and by the Commonwealth Minister for Defence. No minutes were kept of the meeting. Each Minister made notes of his recollections of the meeting to guide his Government and his officers. The State ministers were the same as before except for the Victorian representative because, in the meantime, the Country Party Minister for .Soldier Settlement in that State had been replaced by a Labour Minister. One cannot help noticing that as much criticism was directed at Victoria last year as was directed at New South Wales and Queensland although. Victoria last year had a Country Party government. However, that may be because the veneer over the relations between members of th° Liberal party and tho Australian Country Party in Victoria is much thinner than it is of sheer necessity for obvious reasons in this place. To show the significance of the meeting held on the 31st March last I quote from a speech made by the Victorian Minister for Soldier Settlement in the Victorian Parliament on the 21st April. He said -
I -then asked the Federal Minister whether, if we accepted thu new agreement, he would guarantee that adequate funds would lie made available for soldier settlement purposes. He replied that the granting of funds would depend on a decision of the Loan Council but he could not anticipate what it would be. I then asked bini whether lie would guarantee that additional funds would be made available and 1 received the same reply.
My next question was whether he would recommend t’i his Government that additional funds would be made available not only from loan moneys but from surplus Commonwealth revenue and he stated that he was not prepared to make such a recommendation to the Commonwealth Treasurer.
It was agreed at that meeting, according to a statement made by the Minister for Lands in the New South Wale* Parliament on the 1st October, that another conference would be held before the Australian Loan Council meeting. That conference was not held. At the Australian Loan Council meeting once again the Commonwealth usurped the power of veto over the loan appropriations for the States for all purposes including soldier settlement. New South Wales had the approved amount of £63,510,000; it will receive £53,250,000. Victoria had the approved amount of £4S,270,000; it will receive £40,650,000. Queensland had the approved amount of £21,960,000; it will receive £18,450,000. There is one more repudiation of the Financial Agreement, and a restriction of the activities of the States, including war service land settlement. Thereafter the States asked whether the Commonwealth would hold a further conference to discuss the proposals made on the 31st March as the Minister had threatened on the 13th of the previous November. The reply was given on the 17 th July, and went to all governments concerned. I quote it as it appeared in the speech of the Queensland Secretary for Public Lands in the Queensland Parliament on the 1st September. He said -
My Government has considered the proposals submitted on behalf of your Government by the Minister for Lands of your State, and has decided that, as the Loan Council has determined the 1053-54 allocation of loan moneys, thu amendments proposed by you should not be considered for the year 1953-54.
The threat which the Minister made on the 13th November last was not effectuated during that financial year. It will not be effectuated during the current financial year; and in not carrying out that threat, the Government is failing to fulfil its promise to ex-servicemen in the joint Opposition policy speech of 1949 in which it was stated -
We will encourage and speed up soldier land settlement.
The Government is, still more importantly, failing to carry out its obligations and responsibilities under the Australian Constitution. Under the defence power, as the Minister has said in a lucid interval, the Commonwealth could take over ex-soldier land settlement. It already controls such settlement in three States and it could do so in the other three. The Minister has avoided that responsibility. He has regretted making that statement, and accordingly, this Government will continue, during its last months, to be false to its promises, and to betray its constitutional obligations to the ex-servicemen o( this country.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Mackinnon) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Grants Commission Act - Commonwealth Grants Commission - Twentieth Report, 1953.
Lands Acquisition Act - Return of land disposed of under section 03.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Depart ment of Works - A. F. Anderson, A. B. Hicks.
Public Service Arbitration Act - -Determina tions - 1953 -
No. 61 - Australian Journalists’ Association.
No. 02 - Professional Radio Employees’ Institute of Australasia.
No. 63 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 04 - Musicians’ Union of Australia.
No. 65 - Association of Railway Professional Officers of Australia and others.
House adjourned at 11.31 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for Defence Production, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
z asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the “ honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531014_reps_20_hor1/>.